Narrative Focused Trauma Care with Mike Boland

In our fourth and final episode of conversations with Narrative Focused Trauma Care alumni, we have the privilege of speaking with Rev. Mike Boland about the profound influence of his training and work in NFTC on both his personal life and ministry.

In the shadow of childhood abuse, Mike found himself trapped in what he describes as a perpetual “Groundhog Day” cycle. While he managed to get by, true healing remained elusive. However, the cycle was disrupted when he became a parent, prompting him to seek help to address his past traumas and strive to become the kind of parent he aspired to be.

This pivotal disruption led him to work with a skilled therapist who introduced him to the work of the Allender Center. Though his journey towards healing was tumultuous and marked with anger, Mike pressed on with courage. His desire for growth led him to participate in a Men’s Recovery Week and eventually complete Narrative Focused Trauma Care Level III training, ultimately becoming a Facilitator with the Allender Center.

We hope that this four-part series of candid conversations has inspired you and sparked your imagination regarding the possibilities of healing, both for yourself and others. Our aim has been to offer you a glimpse into the profound impact of embracing the life-changing experience of Narrative Focused Trauma Care.

Learn more about NFTC training at 

* Please note that this episode contains discussions of sexual abuse, including childhood sexual abuse, and is intended for mature audiences only. Listener discretion is advised.

About Our Guest:

Rev. Mike Boland lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Jennifer and their four kids; Avery (their only girl), Keller, Graham and Lincoln. He is an ordained minister and serves as Assistant Pastor at City Church-Eastside and one of the founders of The Rest Initiative. He also has advanced Narrative Focused Trauma training from Allender Center at The Seattle School of Psychology and Theology in Seattle, Washington. Mike is passionate about seeing people transformed through bridging the story of the Gospel into their particular stories.

Episode Transcript:

Dan: You’ve heard me say this a few times, but I’m going to say it again. And that is, people are fascinating, but if they serve with a deep sense of desire and intentionality, the kingdom of God, those folks are really fascinating. And that is Mike Boland. Mike, welcome.

Mike: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me, Dan. Thanks for having me, Rachael.

Rachael: Yeah, it’s good to see you.

Dan: Let me give just a little about, you are a pastor, which from my standpoint is the most difficult job on the face of the earth except being a pastor’s wife, which is even harder. But just to start with that, and not only that, I’m going to ask you to talk about it in a moment. You’re also a business owner, so you’re not just a pastor, you’re an entrepreneur, which is really dangerous. And I’ll just add that I know a lot of pastors who are entrepreneurs and they’re often somewhat narcissistically oriented. You’re anything but that, which is phenomenal to be both a pastor and an entrepreneur, but we also have the privilege of having you as a facilitator in our Narrative Focused Trauma Care. So again, you’re a very interesting dude. Would you agree, Rachael? 

Rachael: I am relieved that you clarified that he’s not a narcissist. That was a good clarification. There was a pause there that was good. But no, I agree with Dan. I think, Mike, you are a very deep well of a man who occupies unique vocational spaces in ways that can be really redemptive. So looking forward to hearing more about how you’ve come to the place you are today and getting to share with us. Just some of the wisdom and hilarity and humanity you’ve experienced along the way.

Dan: So Mike, start with this. How do you do what you do and what do you do with a little more detail than I have offered?

Mike: Yeah. Well, recently a big transition. I’ve been a pastor for 20 years, and I have a friend that we have a partnership in a business that he started actually. So maybe the entrepreneur is not as tied for me, but it’s a business called The Rest Initiative. And we serve organizations with providing a layer of care and it’s proactive care. So we’re finding that pastors and missionaries are burning out, and what if we got ’em back here and started to care for them before all that and help them get onto themselves and their stories, their styles of relating, and maybe it wouldn’t lead to some of the things that we often see. And so Neil and I work together in that work. And then I have my own practice as well. And then I still work part-time at City Church East Side in Atlanta. So yeah, those are the different hats. I wear vocationally, and I’m married for 20 years now to Jen, who has the hardest job in the world. And I have four incredible children and one about to go to college.

Dan: Wow. Well, to ask it, sure, there are better ways to do this, but how have you come into being as rich, complex, essentially beautifully contradictory as you are?

Mike: Yeah, it’s a hard question. I have such, my story of abuse is so long in most of my childhood all the way up to the age of 16, there was just profound sexual abuse and yet success on the football field and baseball field and basketball court, and this strange secret part of me holding in all these things that were happening to me and then having such success in those places and going to college and pretty much falling apart in college and not understanding why. And then going into the ministry and carrying this thing with me that the same success I had on the football field, I just began to do in ministry. And it’s what I often call the movie Groundhog Day. And it is such a profound movie if you stop and think about how instead of changing, he just, in the midst of his every day, he learns to survive. He learns to have relationships with women and get money and do all these things and then just rinse and repeat every day until finally he’s transformed and it brings him out. And that was my introduction to the Allender Center and to you, Dan, in particular. But it was this cycle of hiding my past and performing and figuring out how to maneuver to get my needs met and feeling such a split happening inside of me the longer it went on. And yeah.

Dan: Again, the heartache, even just to hear your words and yet knowing again, I don’t want to in any way escape the heartache of what you’ve endured, but there was something in you that always wanted more or you would not have sought it when so many others don’t. How do you comprehend the desire that you couldn’t kill by your mere day to day groundhog’s survival.

Mike: The desire almost feels like a betrayal. And it’s terrifying in the sense that it’s hurt me so much in the past, and this is language I learned later, but to be in my body and to get near it, was, it’s too much. And the strategies of ministry and even caring for people, it somehow was a way to try to stay away from it. But again, your body just continues to betray you because as we know, you’re made for something more and that betrayal is, it’s the wounds of a friend that you come to realize.

Rachael: Yeah, I guess I’m trying to make sense of what spurred you because to get the transformation out of Groundhog Day, even to step into something like story work or understanding more about trauma and its connection to story, there has to be some kind of, if the desire is so threatening and the performance is so familiar, you have, I mean, whether it was a friend had done it or Yeah. What kind of made you find the courage and or the desperation? I won’t. For myself, a lot of my choices have come more out of desperation than courage. But to lean in?

Mike: Yeah. Yeah. I’d say it’s two things. I moved to Orlando back in early two thousands and to go to seminary and to move from campus ministry into the church, and I had a daughter that was about three years old, and I was about to have my first son and my life just came apart. There was a deep fear that came over me that my father had done horrible things to me. What would that mean? I’d never had any sort of attraction to children or anything like that, but I could not escape the fear that I would somehow replicate the harm that had happened to me. I found a woman that Dan knows who passed away last year, actually. She’s just my first exposure to this work. And she saw me like no one had ever seen me and I wasn’t too sinful or too broken, and I wasn’t gifted enough to outwit her like I had been in the past with many others. And she saw me and called it BS and then called me beautiful. And she brought me right up into the face of my own glory and helped me begin to look at it. So she introduced me to this work. And from there, it just slowly became more of a reality.

Dan: To combine, I think there is a sense in which entering desperation, which for most people I certainly would speak for myself, doesn’t feel like a choice. But nonetheless, the substratum to desperation is profound courage because desperation or situation or complexity of, in this case, the near birth of your son, there are a whole lot of other people who have only stuffed that down with even greater force. So I think there is what you’re naming both of, you’re naming that desperation requires courage even if it doesn’t feel that way. I don’t find many people ever owning that they’re courageous because in the moment, the presence of courage is felt as just inevitability. What else would I do? And the answer is, well, a lot of people wouldn’t have done that, but nonetheless, you did. So we’re, again, we both know that this stunning, now glorified saint by the name of Lottie, invited you into a passage of engagement. What did it begin to do, not only for your life, but with regard to thinking about your way of offering the gospel in the world?

Mike: The first thing it did is it began to, because I was in a situation where I was reenacting my past, not with my son, but with, where I worked, and it helped me begin to see those patterns of how that little boy who has learned to survive, he needs strong men to approve him. And over and over it is as if I’m just opening up and saying, have your way with me. You can do whatever you want with me. I’m here for you. And she began to help me see the way I’d bonded with people that hurt me and move towards them. And I began to name it and understand it, and then began to feel a lot of anger. And so I had to stop seeing her, and it left me in a lot of anger. And my anger was coming out my, at that point, I had two boys and a daughter and my wife, and the anger was growing, and it was in a really, I understood better, but again, there was a lot of anger I needed to feel as a kid that was coming out in a lot of different places except for in the right places. And then as it continued to grow into the right places, I could no longer work in that place. And it sent me to Atlanta. And then that’s where I took my next phase to where I actually came to a Recovery Week. That was my next phase. And to this work.

Dan: What did it open?

Mike: Yeah. Well, Recovery Week, Dan, I’m sure you don’t remember it, you’ve seen so many people, but I’ll never forget, I went last in my group, which I traditionally always speak last, and I’ve been called out for that many times. I told my story and the other guys in the group were like, wow, you really know your story. And you didn’t do that. You said one thing five times in a row and pissed me off deeply because with everyone else, you seem to move into it and talk through it. And with me, I told a story about being abused by my dad. I was a young boy. And you said, do you see how distant you are in your story? And I clearly said back to you, no, I don’t. And your next sentence was, can you see how distant you are in your story? And you did that five times in a row, and the more you did it, the more I felt that anger, because I paid a lot of money to come to Seattle and to be in that place. And I just felt like day one, what is going on here? Well, over the course of that week, I learned how kind those words were that you would never force a kid to go get back in bed with his dad that I’ve had to survive by leaving Mikey leaving that boy. And you felt that distance, but you weren’t going to force, you were going to invite. And over the course of that week, probably by Thursday, I was able to understand and move towards that void for the first time maybe ever. And that helped me begin to understand the lack of presence that my wife was feeling, that my kids were feeling to name the anger and how good and how far it had gotten me. And probably grief started to happen there more than I’d never done before. Yeah, that’s what happened there.

Dan: And I don’t remember saying it five times, but it’s fascinating. I do remember your engagement on Thursday and the fact that there was a sense of something in your face that had been glacial, frozen, not cold in the sense of you don’t have a cold heart, but the warmth of grief, as odd as that may be, the paradox there is, for most of us, grief is not warm, but it entered in for you a level of being with that young boy. And you are a protector. You are a man who will stand against systems, structures and bear a whole lot of consequence of harm. And that was the first movement I saw in terms of you being willing to be a protector, grief, yes, but a protector with righteous anger on behalf of that boy, that’s a lot of complexity. But you have lived with a lot of complexity. Would you not agree?

Mike: Yes, I would agree.

Dan: And it’s had to remain in your head. But my sense is that you’ve begun further, further, further for years now speaking that complexity. How are people in your world, church business world, how do they bear the complexity of a man who’s a great protector but also now warm with grief?

Mike: I can’t speak for, I don’t know how to speak for them. I know that there is something of what I experienced being able to face and hold that complexity myself in a way where it’s now named, it’s not not this quiet behind the scenes reality that I see them begin to believe they can hold it where it gives them permission, especially, it’s almost like they say, wow, if you’ve made it through that, then I surely can. And I actually like that there is, my story is one of significant harm over and over and over from two different men in my life. And so I love giving people the permission to feel good anger and good grief and to reconnect with themselves. And I think it inevitably does what Jesus says, they begin to love their neighbor because finally they fall in love with themselves.

Rachael: Well, I’m just thinking about so many of the, one being in the south and being in context where that’s not necessarily the theological imagination most people have. So what do you find, even as people kind of warm up to that and taste something of the true goodness of the gospel, what are some of the obstacles to people that you find you’re working with that are probably just really common obstacles for all of us?

Mike: Yeah, a big one for me that I’ve kind of put words to this one came similar to it was just one of the preachers that I have enjoyed and learned deeply from. I had the realization happen that people in his church been there 10, 15, 20 years and still without profound change. And to me, I didn’t know what to do with that as a young pastor, like, wait a minute, he’s the best in the last hundred years, in my opinion, how are these people not changing? And now I’ve been doing this long enough to see that in the church, there seems to be such a impotency at times that’s similar to what people outside of the church feel. And I was taught, I don’t know, I don’t have time to explain it all, but I learned it from you guys. It’s the shalom cycle, right? The biblical worldview of shalom and that shalom being shattered and then sought, because we’re created for it. And then the belief of it’ll all be restored. And as I have studied that and deepened it in myself, I love to ask people that have been around the Bible a ton. The question, do you know when Moses wrote Genesis? And inevitably no one’s really thought about that. I never did. But he wrote it when the slaves were in the wilderness. So he saved them, he brought them out. And so if you’ve been enslaved 400 years, what do you need? If you’re going to be different, You need your story. Genesis is not so much, it’s not a history book actually, it’s a story. And as such, it’s to be. It’s an open-ended invitation to remember and to wrestle. And so let’s go look at it for a second. Well, on page three, this horrible thing happens. Page four, one brother kills another one, page six, God said he made any of it. And there’s a man who drinks way too much. Page 12, that we have a liar that’s a father of a lot of faiths, and he lies and he’s a coward at times. And then it creates a family where you have his son who triangulates his two sons. We have mom and Jacob and Esau and dad, and it leads to the complete division of the family. And then that gets handed down into Joseph, and then finally we’re at 50. And so what Moses has given them is from beginning to present day, how did you get where you are? Do you remember? If you don’t remember, how will you move forward? And to me, I then love to flip to the front of the Bible, that one little page between Malachi and Matthew, that’s 400 years. And then you have the greater Moses, Jesus come on the scene and he takes us out of slavery. But in the same way, we’re not in the promised land. We haven’t gotten, we wait for the renewal of all things. And what do we need then? We need our story and the resources of the gospel that it’s got to come into the present, into our style of relating and give us a courage to go into how shalom has been shattered for us. So I go backwards on it. So let’s learn your past to name your present, to create your future, but we use the resources of the gospel to take an honest look at how we got where we are. And I think it’s a biblical model of care that surprises people that it’s there. So sorry for the long answer, but that’s what disrupts a lot of what I’m seeing in the south.

Rachael: I hope you would never apologize for that answer. Part of me wants to just say Amen.

Dan: It’s so hilarious. It’s hilarious. It’s like, what do you need when you’re in the desert? Well, I would’ve said something other than manna or at least some meat, and that’s what they’re demanding. But what he offers, not that meat didn’t come perhaps to a degree of nausea, but the reality is we need our story to be able to move forward. We’ve got to see what shaped us. So in that, you’re a deeply defiant man and defying structures, and I’ll go back to that question in a world, not just the south, but included, where getting along is so important and so often in most churches, getting along, not rocking the boat, you don’t just rock the boat, you walk on water and invite people into the midst of that kind of wetness. Is it helpful?

Mike: Yeah, I think so. Yeah, I know so. in the Allender program, I was invited to do a artifact. You guys know what I mean? Just something to remember. It’s a culmination of what God’s been doing in you. And no one else will be able to see it, but you guys can see it. And this is what I created for me, and it’s a “D” and a “P” because I just learned that there’s a connection between presence, desire, and presence for me that when my desire was really shamed and when I’m fearful of it, I did not show up for people and with people. But as desire as that war has been revealed and beginning to heal, I’m able to begin to show up more. But the words with the dp, for me, it’s a d and a p together, and there’s almost an infinity symbol with it, right?

Dan: Oh, it’s definitely an infinity symbol.

Mike: And now I think the calling from me, what God, the words God gave me is disruptive presence. That’s what calling would be, is now to go as I feel desire and I’m present now to go disrupt and not with great conflict or to hurt, but to get in people’s groundhog days and help them see that you don’t have to live here. You can come out of here. There’s something greater.

Dan: Well, that disruption into the presence of an invitation to a kind of reengagement with what you are made for, the story that we’re not asking you to step into, there would’ve been so little place for desire to have legitimate, honorable goodness. The tragedy of the level of abuse you’ve suffered is that arousal and desire, a sense of complicity and shame is bound and has been bound to the depths of your desire. And yet there’s something about being made in the image of God that in one sense what we can say is that image is deeper than any of the harm we endure. I don’t mean to in any way trivialize your or other people’s harm, but there is something that pulses deeper. So in that, what again I’d love for you to put words to is how have you come to be able to bless that desire?

Mike: I was in a training and had Sam Lee as a facilitator, and I, Sam called. He just showed me I was in a reenactment. I was basically reliving in that moment the way I’d survived in the past. And it was one of the hardest things to feel and just a sense of being naked and feeling such shame and feeling so seen. And Sam was so kind. He did it so well. And what I learned is that I’ve had this war with kindness my whole life. So again, there’s been abuse but success at the same time. And I just was invited to remember the way how kind my abusers were to me, the way they talked about me and doted on me and celebrated my body and said things to me and then would use me deeply. I began to be very suspicious of all kindness. And my story had me trapped to where I couldn’t, I believed the gospel, but Romans 2:4 to know his kindness? No, what do you want from how are you going to use me? And so the healing in those parts of my story, as I began to name that war with kindness and feel what it was doing to my body, it was telling a story as people were kind. And I began to care for that place and have good grief and anger. And it started to penetrate. It started to work, and I began to connect with myself and my wife. And the huge one for me was my kids. The anger started to move away, and I started to be a kind presence. And what’s amazing is they started to change. Just when you think it’s your hardheaded little boys or whatever, I started to change and they started to change. And so it was the war of kindness for me that allowed me to begin to connect in my story and through it and to begin to participate in life in a way and show up. I was receiving his kindness. I was beginning to feel it, if you will, and not fight it.

Dan: I just can’t help but ask it again. And maybe I didn’t ask it well the first time. How has this gone for you engaging these kinds of matters in the context of the church? And I don’t mean just your local church, you have spoken, you have consulted, you have counseled, you have been involved in a lot of men and women’s lives who are pastoring. So how now?

Mike: Yeah. Well, some people, in general, it’s going well, right? It’s amazing that sometimes I wake up and pinch myself that, wow, people are paying me to do this now. I was like, what? But some don’t like the disruption. And so sometimes it goes terrible. Sometimes it’s not received. And the beauty of it is I get to receive kindness still. My heart is not on the line anymore. But to go in and to, what I love about what I’ve learned and where it’s going in me is that I get to give biblical training that challenge challenges and invites. And I love sharing the stories of, you guys know the story of Bartimaeus? I just think it’s such a rich, it’s a tiny little story. He’s the only guy named in the book of Mark like that. We know his name, which it tells you some of what happened, right? But Jesus invites him over and then he ask him a question that makes you think he’s the dumbest guy. Jesus are you the only man that doesn’t know what Bartimaeus wants? He says, what do you want me to do for you? And he doesn’t go around his desire, he invites him. And if you’re willing, and that’s the work, right, is to feel my desire and to move into the lives of others and invite them to desire, invite them into the war that they’re in every day, but with care.

Dan: So what do you see in Bartimaeus that reflects something of your own heart?

Mike: He’s blind and life is going by. And if people give him a handout, maybe he’ll be okay to jumping up, throwing off the cloak and naming desire now.

Dan: Well, to me, it’s one of the core elements about whether you, again, there are a lot of people in ministry that I have some care and respect for, but what I don’t see in them is this intersection of desperation, of courage, their own knowledge of their own need, not just for forgiveness, but for what their desires call them to engage. And that intersection of desperation, of radical need, while also the courage to cry out, to call forth, is part of what I think Jesus is underscoring is what makes us fascinating. What makes a kingdom oriented heart fascinating, because of the ability to hold complexity, paradox. The ability to hold desire that is deeply broken, but still at its very sweet core, stunningly beautiful, and that I think you dear friend have offered us at the Allender Center, offered in your business, offered in your church, but probably most importantly offered to your family and your boys. There’s something, again, I would wish, can’t do it, but I would wish for our listeners to be able to see your face when you talk about your children and your daughter, your sons, and in that deep, deep sense of you know you’re putting your foot on the neck of evil, and yet you’re also, not only offering them, but offering yourself a very new childhood, a very new life in the process of how you engage. And I can say as one part of the Allender Center, we are deeply grateful for your brokenness. And that is not to say deeply grateful you were harmed, but deeply grateful that the intersection of broken and beautiful have invited us, me, others, to a taste of the gospel.

Rachael: Yeah. Thank you.

Mike: Thank you, Dan. Thank you, Rachael.