Thursday, March 28, 2013

Forgiveness brings healing...

It is with just a little fear and trepidation that I share a bit of my story with you today. I've never shared this part of my life anywhere outside my family and a few close friends. Until recently, I'm sure I would have been terrified by the thought of posting it online. But this part of my story is about God and the healing and freedom he brings, so I can't keep it quiet any longer.

Growing up, my family moved around a lot as my dad changed jobs. I went to five elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools. I normally found friends quickly at a new school, but when we moved from a small town in Iowa to Sacramento, California, between my seventh and eighth grade years, things were different. I don’t know what it was, but I found new relationships difficult after this move. Maybe I was overwhelmed by the big city atmosphere or maybe it was because middle school is just plain awkward. Whatever the reason, it took longer to find peers to associate with.

Into that void stepped a man who, upon coming to our church, took charge of the youth group. He voluntarily spent time with us, teaching our Sunday School class and organizing fun events. I took to this man and we became friends.  We did lots of stuff together. He came to the school from time to time and took me out to lunch at a nearby fast food restaurant.

After a few months, this man’s mom kicked him out of her house. That’s what he told us anyway. I’m not sure now whether he was telling the truth or not. To make a long story short, my parents allowed him to move into our house.

Shortly after he came under our roof, he began visiting me at night when everyone was a sleep. He would ask if he could do things that I wasn’t sure he should do, but I was afraid of losing his friendship so I went along with his requests. For a little over a year, I was sexually and emotionally abused by this man in my own home. Whenever he sensed I was getting uncomfortable with what he was doing, he would threaten to kill himself if I ever told anyone what he was doing.

Finally, one day after he had asked me if he could do something that I found repulsive, I told my mom what had been taking place. That ended the sexual abuse, but didn’t quite completely end the emotional abuse. The last thing he said to me was, “I’ll come back for you when you turn 18.” That one sentence caused me to live in fear for years.

Less than a year after the end of this relationship, we moved back to Iowa. Just after we arrived, I went to summer camp and there, for some reason, I decided it was time to tell someone outside of my family what had happened. My poor counselor was shocked and not exactly sure what to do with this kid that kept yelling angrily, over and over, “I hate him! I hate him! I hate him!”

For the next two or three years, I lived with seething anger that I kept buried in my heart. Repressing it led to depression. Fear was there too. I was 18 and I was terrified when I thought that this man might reenter my life.

During the summer between my sophomore and junior years at college, I ran across these words of Jesus in Matthew 6:14-15, “But if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” I realized I was in serious trouble with God. I had not forgiven my abuser. With the Holy Spirit’s help, I chose to do so that day. That choice was the beginning of my healing.

Over the next few years, God brought a series of people into my life, people who counseled with me and prayed with me till I was set free from my anger. I remember the day I knew I had what God wanted for me. I prayed and the burden was lifted. I was no longer angry. The chains of bitterness and hatred that had wrapped themselves around my heart were broken. I was free!

I am grateful to God for all the work he has done in my heart. I want nothing more than for each of you to find the freedom I have found in Jesus. Today, when I think of the man who molested me, I pray for him. I want nothing less than his presence with me in heaven. I pray that God will save him through faith in Jesus and set him free from his sin so that he and I can worship before God’s throne together for eternity.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The cautious return...

The day after I quit Facebook, Twitter and other social networks at God's command, I received notification from the library that a book I'd asked them to purchase had arrived. I went straight to 401 S. Jackson and picked up their freshly acquired copy of @stickyJesus. I laughed at the irony of it all. Here I was holding a copy of a book designed to help Jesus' followers serve him and live out their faith online and I had just left the world of status updates and tweets. Still, I thought it was an interesting topic, so I took it home.

Over the next several evenings and a Saturday, I read @stickyJesus from cover to cover. I was encouraged by the authors' call to missionary service in cyberspace. I was confronted by their warnings against pride and self-promotion. That was me. I wasn't online to show Jesus to the world. I was there to draw people to Mike Neifert (or openmikey, my most frequent username). I prayed a lot as I read. I confessed my sin to God.

I finished the book in a few short days. It's message sat there in my heart. I continued to pray. Then something unexpected happened. God released me to return to Facebook and Twitter. I was shocked and just a little suspicious. Was this "me" giving "me" permission or was it really God? I'm really good at rationalization. (We all are, aren't we?) I didn't rejoin the surfing throngs right away. I waited and developed a safety net. I did not want to return to my previous state of obsession. I did not want to become distracted from face-to-face relationships by their pixelated versions.

I went to Google and typed in: parental control software. I found a review of five products on and chose Norton Online Family from the list. I set up my account, added a "child" named mikey, then called one of my accountability partners from Celebrate Recovery. I gave him the login information for my Norton account and asked him to monitor my internet usage.

Now, every time I log in, I am warned: "Norton Family is running on this computer and is currently supervising activity associated with this Windows account." Some of you might find that stifling. I have found it to be quite freeing. I have a "watchdog" in place to keep me away from trouble.

I am thankful to God for his leading in my life. His provision of a close friend is awesome. I am accountable to both. And now I'm accountable to you too. Feel free to ask me about my "online" life anytime you see me more frequently than it seems wise. If I'm posting frivolous stuff or self-promoting things, call me on it. I want to serve God and live righteously online. I want to show God-given self-control and wisdom.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lying is lying...

Perhaps you've been watching the NCAA tournament this weekend. I've watched a game or two. I love it that CBS (and it's partners) have made every game available online. That means I can catch all the action without subscribing to cable. I refuse to pay good money for rotten TV. (Update: the free stuff ends after four hours. It was too good to be true.)

So I logged on for the first time yesterday to watch Wichita State beat Gonzaga. Well, I didn't know at the time that was going to be the result. I was just going to see what happened. During a commercial break I was treated to a Coke Zero commercial or two that made excuses for making brackets and watching games during work hours. The ads made it sound like it was patriotic to cheat your boss. (It's not, by the way.)

Then today I discovered the "Boss Button" on the site. I was curious, so I clicked on it. Immediately my screen was transformed. It looked like I was working on email. This "Boss Button" is designed to make it easier to trick your boss and do what you want on his time. Ugh!

I know all of this is in jest, but as one who has struggled with keeping my focus on work during work hours I find it less than funny. Lying is lying. It should not be encouraged by anyone. I encourage all my readers to give a day's work for a day's pay.

"And whatever you do,whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." (Colassians 3:17)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

A shocker?

The first number one seed falls! Gonzaga just couldn't keep the Shockers down. Enjoyed watching every minute of it! It was a good night to be in yellow! Sweet 16, baby!

The noble hero...

There have been few heroes of late who show any nobility at all. Most have no morals at all. They're self-centered, self-focused, self-absorbed men who care only for their own glory. (Ironman comes to mind. Captain America is, in my mind, the most notable exception.)

I was pleasantly surprised by the noble Bruce Wayne of The Dark Knight Rises. (Yes, I just now got around to watching it.) His choice to take a bomb away from Gotham and seemingly die for the people caused my chest to swell with admiration. That, my friends, is what being a man is all about. The fact that he survives does not in any way diminish his heroism. Thanks, Christopher Nolan, for giving us someone to look up to. Can't wait for Man of Steel!

Friday, March 22, 2013

Quitting Facebook...

A little over a week ago, I stepped away from all my social media networks. I deleted my account on dailymile, a community of athletes I’d called home since 2010. I disabled my Facebook profile and suspended my Twitter account. )I still have my Google+ account up and running, but that’s kind of a joke. I only use it to repost my blog entries. I’ve never browsed the site or looked at anyone else’s profile.)

Why did I commit cyber hari-kari? God told me to. That’s the short answer. Living for online companionship had become an idol in my life. I was spending way too much time “stalking” people without really connecting with any of them. Facebook and Twitter were distracting me when I needed to spend face-to-face time with my family. dailymile, which has no value at all to my work, would, from time to time, suck me in to its web during work hours. All together, these networks were eating away at real relationship time. I was watching stupid videos and devouring vacuous memes, not conversing with people. That’s why God commanded me to jump ship.

Please understand, I’m not saying everyone needs to leave social media sites. There are many good things about them. You can keep up with far-flung nieces and nephews. You can encourage friends who are struggling in life. You can share things that have been helpful to you with the world. Being on Facebook is for most people a good thing. It is not sinful to have a Twitter account.

For me, however, it was a control issue. I was out of control. God knew it. I knew it. It just took me awhile to admit it and take the steps God was calling me to. He’d given the command once or twice before and, I’m ashamed to confess it, I’d been unwilling to comply.

I was reminded of Paul’s words shortly after I severed ties online. "'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but I will not be mastered by anything." (1 Corinthians 6:12) Regaining mastery over the permissible is what this “fast” is all about. I will not return to any of these sites until God gives me the green light. That’s not going to happen until all is right in my relationship with him and with others.

If something is mastering you, if something is keeping you from an intimate connection with God and those around you, I urge you: cut the ties! Learn to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Learn to love  our neighbor as yourself. Those are the things that matter.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Slogging around town...

I woke up at 7:15. It's nice to sleep in every once in awhile. Yes, that is sleeping in! I wandered around the house getting ready to run. It took me almost 45 minutes to get out the door. I love slow mornings!

I started out with plans to run around the north side of town. I wasn't in any big hurry. I was just running, listening to music, not a care in the world. I made twists and turns as they presented themselves. I avoided unpaved surfaces since it had rained in the night and was threatening to do so again. It did spit on me a few times. Nothing more.

I felt like quitting about a mile and a half in. I was sore and tired. I couldn't get a good breath in the moist air. I almost turned back. I didn't. Instead I forced myself to run further from home. I'm glad I did. I probably got four miles more than I would have otherwise.

Nothing terribly exciting happened on this run. No near misses by cars or vicious dog encounters. I didn't even see another runner or walker. I finished up my run just past my house because I'm not good at stopping just short of a new mile. I stopped at seven and walked back to the house, then to the store to pick up a few things. By the time I was back, a few others were stirring. I hit the shower and ate breakfast. Now I'm ready for the day. (garmin data)

Friday, March 8, 2013

Welcome to the gun show...

Just before I left for my run this morning, I saw a dailymile friend's comment on yesterday's workout. He said, "Make sure the paths of your runs do not end up in the shape of any firearms. You may get banned." Well, I am a rebel. I quickly drew up a route, memorized it and shouted, "Welcome to the gun show!" as I stepped out the door to make it happen.

I was a bit sore this morning. My legs did not want to move at first. Thankfully, I had a block to walk before I got to the start of my route. That worked out some of the kinks. The rest were dissipated as I began running. With Big Daddy Weave blaring in my ears, I began tracing.

I ran up School to Pine, took a left and ran south to make my trigger. I planned to make it a bit longer, but I had to turn around when I saw a dog loose. I'm not deathly afraid of dogs, but I've learned not to startle them in the dark. They don't take kindly to such things.

I ran back up to School, turned right and ran back to Thompson which took me down to Cleveland and around to Oak to complete the trigger guard. I ran up Oak to School and back to Thompson to complete that part.

Turning around, I ran back to Oak and took it south to Highway 54. I ran across the street and took the sidewalk west to Main. There wasn't very much traffic, so I had no problem crossing the highway again and heading north on Main. I ran up to School did a little zigging and zagging to make the hammer, then ran down Cherry to add the top of the barrel. A little more twists and turns and the picture was complete.

What was left to do? Retrace the outline to make sure it looked good from outer space. That's what any Garmin artist worth his weight in electronics would do. There were no dogs on the second time around, but there was more traffic. I had to stop and walk once to let an oil tanker pass. No need to die for time's sake. I'm never in that big of a hurry.

I finished up and walked the block back home. I was really pleased with my master "piece" when I saw it uploaded. Hope you all enjoy it! (garmin data)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Restart number 54...

It's probably an exaggeration, but this morning's run felt like my 54th attempt to get back in the groove of training. I've definitely been in a deep blue workout funk. I haven't been able to find the "want to" for several weeks. I could blame it all on my January 5th injury, but that would be unfair. My body's all healed up. It's my mind and heart that need help.

Yesterday, I asked friends on Facebook and dailymile to yell at me. They did. I was lovingly chided for slacking off. A few people told me they counted on me for inspiration for their own workouts. That's scary! With their voices ringing in my ears, I set my alarm up and hour and went to bed earlier than I had been for the past several weeks.

I woke up this morning at 5:00. It was dark and cold, but not quite as dark or cold as it has been. It was actually above freezing! That made it easier to gear up and get out the door. Temps in the teens and twenties have been part of my problem.

I headed out with no particular plan other than to run till 6:30. I ran out to the highway and ran along the just recently cleared sidewalks. I didn't encounter a single snowy spot or ice patch. That was nice.

When I reached Main Street, I decided to turn south and run down to Fifth which I'd take to the far side of town. Getting far from home makes me run farther. I have to get back, right? I crossed to the west side of Main and ran down the wide sidewalks. I glanced at the movie theater's marquee to see what was showing. I read it, but can't for the life of me remember what's showing now.

Turning west on Fifth, I enjoyed the short downhill by the Blythe Family Fitness Center and Pratt High. I didn't find as much pleasure in the long, gradual uphill that followed. My hamstrings were sore and grumbly. They were happier when I was a lazy bum. I told them to shut up and kept running.

At Illinois, I turned south and ran down the hill. I must say, it is really nice to run down this hill every once in awhile. I usually find myself climbing it. Ugh! It's longer going up! I'm sure of it.

I turned the corner and headed back east on Tenth. I encountered more cars in that half mile or so than I did on all the rest of my run. Not sure why there was so much traffic on a back street.

As I reapproached Main, Lemon Park called my name, so I turned this way, then that to get there. I ran a loop around the sidewalk. I saw no one until I got back around near the entrance. There I spotted two walkers on the road. I shouted a "good morning" to them and ran on. They were pulling away in their car just as I got back to the parking lot. I must have scared them off.

I ran up the hill on Pine, passing another walker as I did so. I turned east on Sixth and ran to Howard which took me north back to home base. I was close to 10K, but I stopped. It was 6:30. Time to go in and get some breakfast before the day's "stuff" begins in earnest.

If you were among those who "shouted" at me to get going yesterday, thanks. I needed the kick in the pants. (garmin data)

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Jesus' deadly stare...

Who is this guy? I know he's supposed to be Jesus, but he looks pretty scary to me. His eyes whisper, "I am just toying with you till the chance to kill you presents itself." Not sure I want this "Jesus" anywhere near me. Even though I love the real Jesus, I don't think I will be sharing this photo anywhere except here. That's okay, though, because 61,662 people have already shared him with their Facebook world. Apologies to my friends who will not be able to see their "savior's" intense stare as they scan my wall.