• Mburk

Small Town Humble Beginnings

Updated: Jun 8

Galatians 5:1 says- It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

I was raised in a very rural, very small part of Indiana. If you could try to visualize what it may have been like, just imagine being lost in the woods. A beautiful garden of evergreens, Oak trees, and maples. Looking up to the sky, you would see only a thick canopy of leaves, with the sun bursting through the small openings made by the wind, gently tussling them about. The smell of the grass and wildflowers fills the air with its intoxicating aroma of sweetness and earth. The light breeze that was allowed to pass through the woodland fortress, gently reminds you of its presence, by whispering in your ear as it passes you by. As you push passed the foliage, you find yourself confronted by an intimidating wall of evergreen. The garrison in charge of shielding that which was within the wood. The unchanged, untouched, self-sustaining, ecosystem of life and death, beauty, darkness, and light.

Finally, you take the last step passed the guards, all clothed in their brown coats and green caps, to show their uniformity and loyalty to protecting the unblemished grove from the world around it. Then, just as your foot reaches the ground, you’re greeted by the sun. At first it seems overwhelming, leaving the mighty fortress shrouded in its dimly lit solitude, to be greeted by the seering heat and blinding light from the fiery ruler of the skies. It’s intensity, warning you to return from where you came. Until, once again, you are sweetly reminded by a whisper from the wind that it is still there. Now you can see that you are in a field that never ends until it meets the sky. What seemed like the tyrant of the sky is now a warm friend, introducing you to his kingdom. The tall slender grass is dancing with the wind, creating spirals, bending, and bowing to the rythm of the wind’s melodies, painting the earth with its living, breathing, patterns of gold.

This was my playground, my security, my kingdom, where I was allowed to explore, create, imagine, and enjoy all of the treasures that were before me. I had no fears or worries. It was almost as if I had no thoughts at all, but could simply just be, do, and truly experience what it meant to be free. I was a young adventurer, conquering the world, looking for treasures, rescuing fallen soldiers, hiking the amazon, navigating the mighty tundra.

In the heart of this vast wilderness, always changing with the seasons, was my home. It wasn’t much, but it was exactly what was needed. Growing up, we never lived in excess. We didn’t “have it all”, but we what had we needed. I grew up with two younger brothers. We were close, and we fought, and well…we were exactly how brothers would be growing up. I guess as young boys in the country, what more could you really ask for? Wide open spaces, blue skies, food on the table, and warm beds to sleep in at night. I went to a private school from grades K-6th. Homeschooled a couple years, and then finished out my schooling at the public middle and high school. It would seem like the start to a fairly simple yet satisfying life.

When growing up in the country, it seemed like a difficult task to make friends. Not because there weren’t any to make, but because for me it seemed like a difficult task to make friends. I can’t say that I was the most “normal“ kid on the block. I‘ve always been a little, eccentric I guess you could say. Or others might have said “different”, “unique”, “special”, I think now we all know what that really means. I was odd, weird, strange, peculiar, particular, very well spoken, way to confident, and possibly borderline rude as a child. (I have a much better filter now, which was a lot of work, just saying). I just really enjoyed telling others, especially adults, that what they were actually trying to convey, had been erroneously garbled out of their mouths in a most incomprehensible way. Of course, I then proceeded to correct their errors with my two favorite words. And my favorite words, were what any parents would love for their small child, “Well, actually”. I was a little boy who went everywhere with his little attaché and a big personality. And when I say as a young child, I mean like 5 years old, telling strangers in the grocery store that they should go home and take a bath because they smell bad (believe me, my mother was truly mortified). Or when I sat with a group of teenagers as a 1st grader, explaining to them that we’re eternal beings, and the biblical theology behind what we should expect when we pass from this plane of existence to the next. I was reading at a high level by kindergarten. And I told everyone, when I grew up I was going to be the President of the United States. Not a fireman, not a doctor, not a teacher like the other kids. No, I was going to be the leader of the free world. I mean, I’m the one writing this, and I’m kind of jealous of this level of confidence. Don’t let me fool you though, there was another side to little Michael. I was also the kid that dunked my grapes in my chocolate milk at lunch for attention. I would never stop talking, to anyone and everyone. I threw fits, I was a brat, I would get tired, and I would need my naps. I was also, even to my own disbelief, a child. And I’m telling you now, that was my more mild behavior. But you know, public image and so on and so forth, and I digress… So yeah, I had a hard time making friends. I did enjoy spending my time with adults though. I felt more comfortable around those 30 years older than me, than I was around kids my own age. It seemed like the only place to meet others in my age group, where I wasn’t offered a choice to opt out, would be at school.

The “normal” experience of the elementary school years, in my opinion, is that some children are shy, others are more extroverted, they start leaning to play with others, they learn how to socially interact and communicate with one another. Yeah, scratch all of that. Instead of playing with others and making friends, somewhere along the way, I decided that it would be more beneficial for all parties involved to just, “watch how it’s done” (whatever that means). I just wanted to be the center of attention, all the time, everywhere I went. And in my small child mind, I didn’t see how this was an issue. It was the never ending re-run of the premier night of, “The Michael Show”. Starring me, Michael. All I can say is, I have made my amends. I did seem to make a friend though! To everyone’s confusion, it was NOT at school. It was the neighbors‘ grandson, who would stay next door during the summer months. We ended up becoming the best of friends, even though he was a bit older than I was. Who would have thought right? We would do everything together. He would come swimming at my house, we would go camping in the front yard, we played war in the open fields. I feel like, it was during this time in my life, that I was actually experiencing childhood the way a child is supposed to. Just pure innocence, real joy without any worry, and what seemed like the entire world as my own personal playground.

It’s a bizarre thing, what trauma can do. Especially to a developing mind, still navigating life in its earliest stages. Learning right from wrong, and why something is right or wrong. As a 30 year old, trying to put myself in the mindset of a 7 year old seems nearly impossible. What life was like before bills, goals, marriage, no curfew, but somehow an earlier bedtime. The biggest decision of the day being, whether or not to spend recess on the swings, or to join the others for a game of freeze tag or Red Rover. And now, as a 30 year old, trying to comprehend that any child, ever be abused, during any period of their life, makes me physically ill. Thinking that any human could cause that type of damage, to a completely innocent, unsuspecting victim, sends my mind spiraling. After years of drugs and alcohol abuse, before finding real help in therapy, coupled with medication and a whole lot of Jesus, it seems like a lot of work to still be experiencing these triggers just writing this. I can say from experience, it doesn’t go away, but it does fade away. It also doesn’t define who you are, the way that I thought my abuse defined who I was. There is freedom on the other side, and there is always help if you look for it.

I remember years ago, when I was still searching for anything, to “cure” the mental anguish and dysfunction that I was dealing with, I stumbled upon a YouTube video that I don’t think I could ever forget. It was an episode of Oprah, but in the earlier years of the show, and she was interviewing a woman with a hundred or so different personalities. She had suffered lots of abuse from an early age, that lasted what would have seemed like many lifetimes. The quote that I will always remember, was something that her therapist had said to her during one of her many sessions. He had told her, “The mind is very kind to itself, and will do anything to protect itself.” That is why her mind made up each one of those different personalities. She then explained, that each personality held a fragment of the memories of abuse, and that the memories were so painful and mentally disruptive, that the mind created completely separate individuals in order to spread out the trauma.

This is how powerful our minds are, that they can create new ”people” just to protect itself. There are periods of my life that seem to have been blocked out from my memory, making it difficult to attach a timeline to certain events, even some months are just wiped clean. It’s like when you wake up in the morning, and there’s that brief moment you‘re able to capture the fleeting visions of your dreams from the night before. And then, when you fully snap into consciousness, they’re gone.

Moving forward, it was as I would be transitioning to 3rd grade, that I was abused for the first time. I was molested and raped by my best friend, my only friend.

Of course, I won’t go into detail for the sake of those reading. But I will say, the amount of manipulation and conditioning, the pressure, and fear that was placed on that innocent, 8 year old Michael, was very difficult to work through even as an adult. The constant shame, panic, and fear, was driven so deep into my core as a young child, that at times I was in the very next room, but couldn’t even manage to scream for help. It was paralyzing.

I watched a documentary once, about a naturally occurring phenomenon known as ”accidental awareness”. Accidental awareness, is when a patient who gets put under anesthesia for surgery, becomes mentally and physically aware, but is unable to move or speak. They can feel every planned cut and stitch, but can’t even make a sound. This is the only experience that I could possibly relate this to. And just like that, my innocence was stolen, my childhood was stolen, my mind was stolen, my body was stolen, and all that was left was a victim, an empty shell with a name. Michael. Today, all I have from this period in my life are some fleeting memories of the events that had transpired that summer, no more than faded dreams of misfortune, lost in the fog of time.

I think that we could all assume what happened next. I started acting out like never before. I was consumed with rage and anger, and I was determined to push away anyone who might have been able to help. I started building protective walls around myself, that no one would be able to tear down. This was the very beginning of my downward spiral towards finding relief from the pain, confusion, and hatred that I was holding onto.

Third grade was unfortunately, not the experience I should have had. I was no longer participating in class, I was unable to complete simple homework assignments, I was rebelling against any and every authority figure in my life. I remember suffering from intense, acute, headaches so often, I would find myself at the nurses office asking for any kind of pain reliever several times a week. I was always nauseous, sick to my stomach for no reason. I went from what seemed like a young boy with a very bright future, to a lost cause in the blink of an eye. I was in the gifted class for a few years, due to my intelligence being known by the teaching staff and my parents. But when I was unable to continue performing, it seemed like that was taken from me just like so many other things that I once enjoyed. At that point I had developed a “who cares” attitude, thinking that by acting as if I didn’t care and that it was my choice, that somehow I would maintain a false sense of control in my life. From what I know, people were worried about me, others frustrated in trying to come up with a plan of what to do with me. Due to my ”irrational” behaviors, I started getting picked on and bullied. I can only look back on the situation now and see how, of course that happened, because it was my behavior that was warranting that type of response. I wasn’t picked to play any of the games at recess, I was always picked last for the teams in gym class, and I was being avoided like Covid-19, 2020.

Then, I was SA’d again, at school. For years I tried to rationalize these experiences, by telling myself that this was ”normal“ behavior among young children. I was feeding into the idea that it was my choice and that I was in control of what was happening to me. I was also feeding the monster inside me, that was lying dormant, waiting to make an appearance later on in my life. This monster continued to feed on lies, hatred, confusion, emptiness, loneliness, and misery, until it would emerge as a fully grown alcohol addiction and substance abuse problem.

This amount and type of damage that is done to a young child causes lasting effects. Of course I hadn’t known at the time, but this would go on to affect me for many years to come. I was robbed of my innocence, my childhood. It was taken from me without even asking my permission. Now, here I was in the bathroom, completely alone, completely broken.

I continued driving the lies deeper into my core in order to cope with the damage that was being done. No longer rationalizing, but finally I convinced myself that I chose this. Working so hard to bury my shame, fear, and the disgust that I felt with myself. I remember still, so vividly, the moment I broke down and told my parents what had been happening. The day haunts me, like a movie on replay in my mind looping over and over. The look on my father’s face, my mother sobbing uncontrollably. Both of them trying understand how something like this could have happened.

I begged them not to do or say anything. I was afraid something bad would happen to them, as I had been threatened and my family threatened so many times already. I was so ashamed of everything that had been happening to me, but in that, I became deeply ashamed of myself. It was my fault, I had done this. I was the reason everyone was hurting. These were the lies that I believed. If that Michael was who caused all of this pain, then I would be the opposite in every way. I believed that I was only deserving, only worth the things that had happened to me. I started punishing myself, because if I took all of the hurt and pain for myself, then no one else would have to. I would never be vulnerable again. I was never going to let anything slip, and I was convinced I could bottle it up inside of me forever. A new identity started to develop in me. I stopped trying in school and my grades started to plummet. I was disruptive and loud, always trying to start something. I was fueled by anger. I was manipulative to get what I wanted. The sweet, caring, innocent little boy was gone, and in his place grew an empty, angry, broken, mess.

Let’s fast forward a few years and I was no longer at private school. My parents decided it would be a good idea to get a fresh start and move to the public school, and not to mention they were barely making ends meet as it was to keep me there. I knew no one. I felt even more alone than before. From the very beginning, I was bullied and called names on an everyday basis. I was told I didn’t fit in, that I was weird, a freak. I was followed from class to class by a group of guys that showed me a gun, and was told if they ever caught me out of a class I would be dead. I was shoved, pushed, and beaten for no reason. Cornered in bathrooms. I was actually spit on one day, by the girl who brought vodka in a water bottle to 7th grade English class….at 9AM! I just wanted to make a good impression. I’ll never forget my very first day. I picked out a sick jimmy hendrix t-shirt to wear under a dark brown button down, a nice pair of dark blue jeans, and was ready to make some friends in a whole new place. If only I had known! I’m glad I was thinking about trying to assimilate, and didn’t wear a tie and bring that dang Attaché!!

I remember my father at one point in my life telling me that I had to fight back or it would never stop. He tried showing me how to defend myself. I was signed up for martial arts to start learning the skills necessary to make everyone stop what they were doing. None of that would ever make a difference. I had already made a vow that I was the only one who deserved to be treated that way. I would never hurt anyone, no matter what they said or did to me, because I knew exactly what that felt like, and I couldn’t imagine being the reason for someone to feel the way I did every day.

During all of this confusing time of puberty, trauma, and the fresh wounds of being the new student at the school. I started experiencing violent mood swings. I would try burying the feelings that would rise up in me, stuffing away anger and shame. I would break out into fits of aggressive rage that I seemed to have no control over. I would have severe panic attacks in which I would pass out or experience heart attack like pains. I was sent to therapy, but I never opened up. I was humiliated, and felt that everyone was just out to get me and would use information about me to embarrass and judge me. I suffered enough personal, private, and public humiliation, and the only way I knew how to protect myself was to keep building higher walls.

Finally high school came, and it seemed like yet again, another fresh start. I was going to create a new identity. I was going to be popular. Everyone would know my name and I would do whatever it took to make an impact. So, immediately I started taking honors classes again. I helped to create a radio and tv broadcasting class and I anchored on all the school tv’s once a week. I was in band, music competitions, I tried out for sports, I was helping run sound and video at the football games, and I was actually getting involved again. One of my favorite projects was leading our school in the national Sony filmmaking competition. The project was cool yes, and I was allowed to leave class to work on it yes, but the real reason was the teacher that saw something in me. I think it was the first time in maybe 12 years, I felt that someone believed in me, and that was all it took to give me hope. That man has left a lasting impact on my life that he may not even realize. He welcomed me into his home and his family, he was my biggest supporter. I was no longer bullied or picked on. Mainly because everyone had grown out of that phase and there were more interesting things to do like sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I had to adapt quickly in order to protect myself, so I became quite the chameleon. I never actually made friends, I just observed what other people did with their friends. I realized if I just acted as if I liked the same things as someone, and slightly mirrored their personality, then it would solve all of my problems. No one would ever know who I really was, and I would no longer have any enemies because everyone thought I was just like them. This was not a healthy decision, and actually acted as a catalyst for years of identity issues and later therapy to learn who I was again, accept who I was now, and embrace it.

In order to drown out the feelings of hopelessness, loneliness, and the rampant anxiety, I started going to parties. I felt welcomed. No one is judging you when they‘re 18 years old and puking in their friend’s parent’s sink. This is when I started binge drinking. I wouldn’t drink socially, but to completely black out, to go numb. I started smoking, abusing my prescription medications, anything to fill the emptiness that continued to eat away at me. When I felt low I would get high. When I was high, I would find ways to reach new lows, and the cycle continued.

During this stage in my life, I began working in various different trades. I became a framer, a painter, and started my career in construction. This atmosphere allowed me to continue my bad habits and almost encouraged them, as it was common for my co-workers to have the same habits as I did. I never did hold down a job for very long though. I would work somewhere a few months before I burned another bridge. Moving on from place to place like a vagrant without a home. Once again, trapped in what seemed like a never ending cycle.

Fast forward a few years of this behavior. I knew that I could no longer continue on the way that I was. Life was unmanageable, work was unmanageable, relationships were out of the question. As I continued to spiral out of control, I considered taking my own life many times. I watched as “friends” continued to fall victim to their substance abuse and their lives continued to crumble around them. I desperately needed a way out.

I remember finding myself at a crossroads. I felt so trapped where I had found myself, but was desperately searching for any way to remove myself from the places and situations I had put myself in. This is when I had my first experience with God. I had been crying out, cursing God for everything that had been done to me. It was in the midst of these cries, I heard a still small voice in my head say, “it wasn’t me who did any of this to you, but the world around you”. It just came in the form of a thought, that I knew couldn’t have been mine because I would never think that way

I was furious. How could a so called “loving God” allow any of this to happen to a young innocent child. How could God let me wander so far off into the deep end, that I was abusing drugs and alcohol. I started searching for any way to blame my pain and bad choices on Him. Very little time had passed, when I decided that I had imagined all of this and it had no meaning. I needed to escape again.

So that’s exactly what I did. I ran even further from anyone and everyone. I was working as a server at the time, and found myself living at a strange resort in the middle of nowhere. I was meeting people from all over the world who were in positions of power in many different fields. People in government, sales, CEO’s, meeting everyone at “parties”, I started getting offered positions and to come work with them, ”to change my life for good”. I wasn’t sure why at the time, but each offer just made me sick to my stomach. The longer I lived at the resort, the more parties I was invited to. These parties were so twisted, that I never could have imagined this was something that actually took place on earth.

I find it astonishing when I look back into previous moments of my life, and am shocked to think that there are so many different realities being experienced on this earth, that so many people don’t even know exist. To go into detail of the parties I went to, the events happening in cities like Chicago, the pain being experienced at the house next door, rituals being performed in places that aren’t even on google maps, the strange dark world that stays so well hidden, would not be appropriate.

After spending forty days in this place, it was like my eyes were opened for the first time, and I could see clearly what was actually happening around me. I was completely alone as everyone was off the resort that day (Which was very uncommon). They were out running errands or working, waiting for the festivities to begin again later that night. I finally broke down. I couldn’t do it anymore. This life, the drugs, the despair, the emptiness. I sat in my RV crying out, asking for a way to escape. A real escape. From the wickedness, anger, hatred, addiction, the abuse, everything that had been fueling me for years. I cried out to God and finally started asking for help. How can I escape? Please, take my life I don’t want it anymore. This was the only time that I heard Him, and I think since then it was because it was the only time I needed to. I heard only one word, “Run”.

I did. I left everything that I had. I left my car, my clothes, every item that I had ever owned, including my life that day and started walking. I didn’t want any of it anymore. Everything I touched would die. Everywhere I went brought pain and disaster to me and everyone around me. I was wearing flip flops, shorts, a t-shirt, and a raincoat. I walked almost 30 miles that night, down dark country roads lit only by the moon peeking out from time to time behind the clouds. The events that transpired that evening are a story in themselves, but will have to be a story for another time. I finally arrived at my parent’s home. My feet were bloody from the rubber on the flip flops rubbing against them for so long. I was drenched from the rain. I was exhausted. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, I was spent. But, I was home.

After I was able to see my parents and explain to them that I was changed, they didn’t need for me to tell them. They could immediately see it themselves. For years they lived in worry, whether or not I had food or a place to sleep at night (which most nights I did not). They continued to stay faithful, hope, and pray that one day I would return. They were scrutinized and judged by their church and “friends” asking, “how could they serve others if their own lives were so dysfunctional”. But now I was back, and I was never leaving to go back to where I had come from.

I started finding side jobs for friends and family, making a couple hundred bucks here and there. I saved everything I had, and decided to start my own business. It was difficult, and at times it seemed like it would have been much easier to just quit and settle for anything I could find. I kept pushing through the blood, sweat, and tears (literally), and reminded myself of the days of my past to keep me focused on what a new future would be like.

Now I am employed as a financial representative for a great company. I am building a nonprofit to reach others and give them hope the same way I wish it would have been available to me. I am building a group for young professionals to find mentorship, hear from keynote speakers, build their businesses and networks. I am married to my beautiful wife Ashley, and we are working hard to build a life together and bring freedom to everyone around us. None of this was possible when I was living life, doing everything “my” way. I have only begun to truly live, since I gave everything I have and am, back to the God who has picked me up time and time again. I realize now, the more that I was trying to hold onto my pain, my dysfunctional “coping” mechanisms, control, money, power, and even freedom itself, the less freedom I actually had. I chose that day to trade everything for my freedom.

There is so much more to share about my journey, and that is why I started Freedom Trades. Just as I felt there was no hope for me, no light in my darkest place, God still came and rescued me. Since that day, of course I’ve had my ups and downs, but nothing has been the same ever since. God has provided for me and continues to do so every step of the way. One of my favorite Bible verses is from Joel 2:25 and reads, “And I will restore to you the years that the locust have eaten, the cankerworm and the caterpillar and the palmer worm, My great army which I sent among you.”

All those years I spent fighting Him, running from Him, living in disobedience to His wishes for my life thinking that I could do better for myself. All the times that I had spoken out against Him, even cursed Him and He chose to love me still. I had studied so many religions while I was running. Searching everything for ”enlightenment”, freedom, and peace. God was the only one I never had to go running after, because the whole time I was running, He was running after me.

I hope that this next chapter of my journey leads to helping others find the freedom that I had been searching for, for too long. I hope that in all the things that come from this nonprofit, the people who support it, and the ministries that are created, that all the glory is given to God. I was nothing without Him, and I am nothing with Him. But, through Him there is so much that can be done.

Thank you for reading a little about my journey. If you would ever like to hear more, or discuss some of the battles that you find yourself facing, never hesitate to reach out. I will always do my best to support others as they find their way on this journey we call life. Wishing you all peace, joy, and many blessings.

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