Sunday, May 5, 2013

    From Chapter 10 of Basic Prayer and Simple Meditation
    Being Comfortable With Being Imperfect
    As I’ve said many times, because God has made us perfectly human, He does not expect us to be perfect humans.  Once in a while we might worry, or get overly concerned about whether our efforts at Step Eleven are adequate.  I think a good number of us probably do that to some extent.  But, one of the worst things we can ever do is allow our old alcoholic perfectionism to govern our spiritual life.  Perhaps you’ve even done this to yourself at times.

    The main problem with perfectionism is that it does not cause perfection in a human being – it only causes anxiety.  And, in the end, it eventually causes us to stop trying to get better because it always tells us we’re failing anyway, no matter how hard we try.  Striving for progress brings progress.  Striving for perfection only brings us to a stop.
    We alcoholics tend to be “all–or–nothing” people.  If we feel our prayers aren’t quite sincere enough, we think we should stop praying.  If we think our meditation time doesn’t meet our standards, we think we might as well stop meditating.  And, if we see that we still have a few defects of character, we think our daily Tenth Step inventory is a pointless exercise.  But, the God who made you human is comfortable with your humanity.  Because you’re human, you’ll never be as perfect as you’d like to be, so you might as well relax and get comfortable with your humanity, too.

    One thing I’ve come to see about God is that He is absolutely pleased with our prayers and our efforts at meditation, no matter how meager or faulty they may seem to us.  When we are with Him, He’s glad we’re with Him.  When we talk to Him, He’s glad to listen.  And, when we try to listen to Him, He’s glad we’re trying to listen. 

 Basic Prayer and Simple Meditation

Basic Prayer and Simple Meditation: 
A Recovering Alcoholic Talks 
About Beginning Spirituality 
is available at in print or as an e-book.

     As I've worked with many recovering people over the years, I've often found myself wondering why some people have so much trouble with prayer and meditation when it seems to come so easily for others?  Why do some of us feel that spirituality is something mysterious, elusive and unreachable?  Is it possible that the answers can be found by simply embracing our own human nature?
     That's why I felt the need to convey the message that when we are struggling with prayer and meditation, we are fighting against a perfectly normal and natural part of our humanity.
     I think any beginner will be pleased to discover that prayer, meditation and spirituality are completely natural aspects of our humanity, and not so mysterious after all.  It’s only a matter of keeping it simple.

Here's what people are saying about my new book:

“Wow! Author Mike D. has done it again in this anointed book,  This is the first time I have read a book that explains the practical application and implementation of this vital practice so that anyone can understand it. Never again will you be confused about prayer. Never again will you be perplexed concerning meditation.”   ­
Monty Dale Meyer, CEO Take 12 Recovery Radio, 

“Once again, Mike D. has nailed it! I love the simplicity in this book. I also love how easy it is to read and understand. While I can see the relevance for those in recovery, this book speaks to everyone who has ever sought solace in prayer. I actually took time to practice the meditation exercise in Chapter Six and experienced amazing results! Brilliant!” 
Kris Trumper 

“Prayer and meditation can feel intimidating to anyone, but Mike D. lifts the veil from these spiritually powerful connections and shows us the beautiful simplicity of each. This could serve as a primer for anyone looking to enhance their relationship with God. Absolutely worthy of a re-read to study and develop a more meaningful, life-long meditation and prayer life.”
Jennie McKinney

“I found the simple way that Mike D. reveals his thoughts on prayer and spirituality to be inspiring. Not only is it a good read for the beginner, it’s also a great refresher for anyone who prays.”
Lori H.

Below are Radio Interviews for Take 12 Radio at Log on and give a listen!
Basic Prayer and Simple Meditation:

Letting God In

Other Books by Mike D.
Letting God In
One Alcoholic Talks to Another About A.A.'s Step Four

The Healing Rosary
Rosary Meditations for Those in Recovery from Alcoholism and Addiction

October 1, 2013
   Letting God In: One Alcoholic Talks to Another About A.A.'s Step Four is available through in print form as well as for Kindle. If you don't have a Kindle, Amazon offers FREE apps for your computer, smart phone or tablet! You don't need to own a Kindle to read the book! Check out the free reading apps!

     Writing this book has certainly been a labor of love for me because it emerges from my many fulfilling years of experience as an A.A. sponsor, as well as the collective experiences of all those folks who I’ve been blessed to bring through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Helping other alcoholics work the Steps always forces me to remember how much help I received when I first came in to A.A. recovery. When I was only attending meetings to stay sober, it was those loving and caring old-timers who gently led me to take the actions that would eventually give me a brand new life. Therefore, I feel that I must pass on to you everything that was given to me.
    Letting God In is simply designed to point the way and help you at the Fourth Step juncture.  My hope for you is that this small book can answer enough of your questions to put your mind at ease and help you begin moving toward a new life.

March 11, 2015
The Hand Plane Story

Because I’ve been collecting and restoring antique hand planes for a number of years, it’s not unusual to find me prowling the neighborhood garage sales and antique stores on a quest for these old relics of yesteryear.  Although I collect and restore the tools that woodworkers once used in the trade of fine furniture making over a century ago, I don’t just display them on a shelf to be admired.  No.  Once I’ve fixed them up, polished them up, and restored them back to good working condition, I actually put them to use in my own woodworking shop.  I feel a lot of satisfaction in taking a rusty, broken, derelict plane and putting it back into service so it can once again do what it was originally made to do.

I’ll never forget one particular Saturday afternoon when I happened upon one of the most prized additions to my collection in a dusty box full of rusty junk at a yard sale.  After spotting the broken and dirty wooden handle sticking up out of the corner of the cardboard box, I gingerly lifted it out for further inspection.  It was in very poor condition, but as I rubbed away some of the crusty dirt with my thumb, I was able to find the Makers Mark.  Underneath a layer of rust I found the name “Bailey”, which immediately assured me that I was holding one of the finest American hand tools ever made.

The owner had scribbled $5.00 on a piece of paper he’d duct taped to the front of the box, but when he saw me rummaging through it, he called out to me.  “If you want that old hand plane, I’ll let you have it for two dollars…but you gotta take the whole box.”  Still examining the severely rusted one hundred year old tool in my hands, I next heard him say, “Tell you what, I’ll let it go for a buck.”  Having not yet had a chance to reply to him, he quickly blurted out, “Okay….just give me fifty cents and it’s all yours.  But, like I said, you gotta take the whole box of stuff.  It’s all going to the dump tomorrow anyway.”  Without even naming the price I had in mind, I handed him two quarters and carried the box down the driveway.

As I stood at my workbench the next day, happily going about the painstaking task of cleaning away the decades of rust and dirt and neglect that had befallen my newfound treasure, I couldn’t help thinking about the man who was so eager to bargain down, when I would’ve so easily bargained up to buy this old plane.  I guess he hadn’t looked beyond the rust to find the Maker’s Mark underneath, so he wasn’t aware of its real value.

Today, every time I use that newly restored hand plane in my workshop, I think about the difference between how we see ourselves, and how God sees us.  When we look at ourselves, are we ever really able to look beyond our own flaws and our brokenness to see how valuable we really are as human beings?  Do we, all too often, sell ourselves way too cheap, or just throw ourselves away?  Are we sometimes way too eager to bargain ourselves down, when God is always bargaining up?

When we actively surrender ourselves over to God through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, we allow Him to clean away the dirt and clear away our flaws, and fix what is broken in us.  We place ourselves in His hands and let Him restore us to good condition and make us useful once again.  And, in the painstaking process of looking within ourselves, we will always find that one important thing inside us that tells us we were carefully made by the hands of our Creator who knows that we’re way too valuable to be thrown away.  When we consider our mistakes and flaws, we must always look for our Makers Mark underneath those flaws.  Only our Maker knows the value of a human soul.

December 8, 2013
The Weed Patch Story

            A.A.’s Step Four is where we honestly look at the truth about ourselves.  Now, of course, when we’re brand new to 12 Step recovery, the vast majority of us are pretty well scared to death of truth.  We don’t want to see the truth about ourselves because we think we’ll find an ugliness hidden deep down inside us that is way too horrible to behold.  We have a great fear that we’ll see just how nasty and evil and ugly we really are, and we’d rather not verify how bad we always suspected we are.  Even though that’s a very normal mindset for the average newly-recovering alcoholic, this kind of fear can make it very difficult for a new person to begin Step Four and make progress in our Program of recovery.  Fear isn’t easy to overcome, and faith doesn’t come easy for us.  Even though it’s very difficult to talk someone into having faith, I’ve frequently been able to talk them out of some of their fears – which often makes a little bit of room for a little bit of faith to happen inside them.  Sometimes the best antidote for fear is just taking the time to share raw experience.  So, here is where I always like to share a true life experience about something that actually happened to me that changed everything for me regarding Step Four.  I call it The Weed Patch Story.
            Well over 25 years ago, before I was even thinking about trying to get sober, my wife and I had moved to a small acreage that had a huge ugly thick patch of weeds just beyond the back yard.  Beyond the weed patch, there was a lovely grassy pasture.  While the pasture that laid beyond did look inviting, the weed patch was definitely an eyesore.  The weeds and thistles were as high as my shoulders in most places.  After we got settled in and we had everything arranged nicely in the house, I decided that it was finally time to figure out what we should do about that awful patch of weeds.  First, I thought about setting it on fire and burning it all down.  Then, I thought about hiring someone to mow it all down.  I even thought about getting somebody to come in with a bulldozer.  I wasn't sure how to approach it, but I knew I had to get rid of that big patch of weeds somehow because it was so nasty looking.
            One sunny Saturday morning my wife and I were outside together and we were discussing what to do with the darned thing.  Then my wife said she wanted to walk back into the pasture on the other side of the weed patch and explore it.  Well, the only way to get to the pasture was to walk directly through the weed patch.  So, we decided to try it.  We proceeded carefully, pushing our way through the tall thick weeds -- with me blazing a trail.  It was slow-going because I had to push tall weeds from side-to-side as we trudged through.  It was like being in a jungle.  Suddenly, my wife said she stepped on something and wanted to see what it was.  She bent down to find it and came up with a small cucumber in her hand.  Then, I stepped on another cucumber, and another, and another.  I pushed my way forward and stumbled over two small anemic looking pumpkins.  As I held them up to show them to her, she showed me a handful of squash she'd found.  While I was digging around in the weeds, I discovered some ripe watermelons.  Then I found what appeared to be a row of carrots and row of beets.  Totally amazed, I turned to her and said, "What in the heck are these vegetables doing in a weed patch??"
            Grinning at me, my wife said, "You silly boy.  Mike...don't you get it?  This is no weed patch!  It's a garden!  Let's start pulling weeds!"  So, we did start pulling weeds.  I pulled them up and she carried them away and put them in a big pile.  I handed her more and more vegetables, and she filled buckets and boxes with them.  It was a sorting-process.  The weeds got piled over there, and vegetables were stacked neatly over here.  It was a lot of hard work, and it took all weekend, but the more weeds we pulled, the more vegetables we found in very straight carefully-planted rows.  As we worked on it, my mind gradually changed from thinking of this piece of land as an ugly weed patch, and I started thinking of it as a garden.  And, when we finally got finished....that's exactly what we found -- a beautiful carefully-planted garden.  Once we got rid of the chaos of the weeds, we could see the well-planned order of the garden.  The vegetables we found were not thriving too well because the weeds had blocked out the sunshine from them.  Some of them were small and pale but, they were still living and good to eat.  We definitely made use of them at our dinner table.  We couldn't believe how surprised we were by the weed patch that we were getting ready to destroy.
            About three years later, after two stints in two treatment centers, I found myself sitting with my A.A. sponsor as he was explaining Step Four to me from the Big Book.  As we read the book and talked, I suddenly remembered that experience three years earlier with the weed patch/garden.  It came to my mind in a flash of reality.  And, I could hear my wife's words:  "Mike....this is no weed's a garden!"  That's when I realized that I had to change my thinking about me and this search for the truth about myself.  And, that’s when I saw that Step Four is nothing more than “pulling weeds”, so to speak.  Something, or Someone, told me that I might be surprised by the truth of myself, if I’d be willing to look for it.  Maybe I really wasn’t as evil and ugly as I thought I was.  Perhaps there might even be something good to be found inside me.  All along, I had only thought of myself as an ugly useless "weed patch" that needed to be destroyed.  But, I discovered in Step Four that I was never a "weed patch".  No.  I was actually a carefully-planted "garden" that had just become over-grown with weeds, that's all.  My "weeds" (my character defects) had been blocking out God's Grace all along.  Underneath all the chaos and disorder of those weeds (character defects), there was God’s perfect order inside me.  All I had to do was....start pulling "weeds" to reveal it.  And, once I did, I found something beautiful and useful that had just been hidden away underneath.
            Once we start "pulling weeds" in Step Four, we're not going to find out how ugly we are.  We're actually going to find how beautiful we are.  None of us are a "weed patch".  No.  The truth is, each one of us is a "carefully-planted garden"….with God’s perfect order to be found underneath.  As I said at the beginning, Step Four is an honest search for the truth of ourselves.  But we don’t have to be afraid of the truth.  You see, the truth we will find is not the ugly truth.  It's the beautiful truth.

December 2, 2013

Why Write a Book About Step Four?

          Every person who is new to Twelve Step recovery will eventually be introduced to the first real action-Step we take in our Program – the written Fourth Step inventory.  As we soon discover, this is a fact-finding and a fact-facing process where we honestly confront ourselves regarding our own personal faults, flaws, failures, and mistakes.  Rather than being a brutal prosecution of ourselves, it’s actually more of a search for all those things within us which have always held us down in life and caused us the emotional pain that we’ve always carried with us.  Over all, it’s a healing spiritual exercise that opens doors that always seemed closed to us before.  And, once we become willing to examine and evaluate our assets and liabilities, we end up finding a freedom and inner peace that we never expected -- along with a sense of purpose that we never dreamed could ever be possible for us.  Since this kind of self-examination is something we’ve never attempted before, it’s pretty easy to understand that any newcomer would have certain difficulties along the way.  This is where the experienced A.A. sponsor comes in mighty handy to a newly-sober person who is determined to do whatever it takes to find happiness and get life-long recovery.
          In the course of leading countless newcomers through the Fourth Step process, I’ve found that a sizeable number of folks will normally have trouble completing the inventory for reasons that can be alleviated fairly quickly just by re-reading the Big Book instructions a bit more thoroughly.  More than anything, these are usually just “nuts-and-bolts” details about how to proceed, so I’ve never believed that there is sufficient reason to write a book about how to solve those garden-variety kinds of problems.
          However, I’ve also found that a larger portion of those I’ve sponsored have had a type of problem that isn’t so easily surmounted.  These folks had harbored so many fears about writing the inventory that they couldn’t bring themselves to even begin Step Four – which always places them in the very dangerous predicament of being stuck between Steps.  Fear is an obstacle that stops more people from moving forward in the Steps than anything else.
          Yet, the more I’ve worked with newcomers, the more I discovered that the reason people have so many fears about Step Four is because they have so many unanswered questions about Step Four.  “How can I get willingness?  What if I can’t be honest?  Will Step Four be painful?  What if I can’t get rid of resentment?  What are my character defects?  Why do I feel so guilty?  Who is this God I’m seeking?  What if God doesn’t love me?  Will He answer my prayers?  What if He won’t help me?  Will I ever have faith?”
          There is a lot of pain behind each one of these questions, and people who are hurting don’t want to hurt more than they already do.  These aren’t questions about “how do I do this?”  They’re questions about “how much is this going to hurt?”  Are there really any answers available that can make a difference to a newcomer?  Once again, this is where an experienced A.A. sponsor can come in mighty handy.  At this point, I’m able to convey to them that I have answers because I’ve already asked those same questions myself.  I’ve had the same pain and the same fear.  But, I was given answers that made it possible for me to put aside my fears and get started and make progress.  Because I’ve worked that same Step myself, I can provide answers to all those seemingly impossible and terrifying questions.
          When I saw hurting people begin to find the answers to these kinds of questions, I saw their fears go away.  This is when I saw them begin moving forward without the fear that had always crippled them before.  All throughout my sobriety, all I’ve ever been able to do is help one person at a time as they come along.  We sit down, pour a cup of coffee, and we talk.  And, as we talk, the possibility of recovery comes into view for them.  That’s good.  Yet, as good as that might be, it’s still only a few folks out of millions more who need answers and help and healing.
          Helping you find the answers to your most troubling questions about recovery is the primary reason I felt compelled to write Letting God In.  This new book allows me to talk to you personally, one-on-one, like I’ve always done with my sponsorees -- even though I’ll never be able to encounter you in person.  Grab a cup of coffee and sit down with me for a while.  Open the book and we’ll talk.  And, as we talk, you might get the answers that’ll help make a difference in your own recovery.

The Joys of A.A. Sponsorship

        A practicing alcoholic may feel a lot of different feelings, but joy isn't one of them. Joy in life was an elusive feeling that I chased, but always failed to experience before I finally got recovery from my disease of alcoholism in 1988. All the selfish things I did that I thought would surely give me some degree of happiness or joy either delivered me an ample measure of pain, or left me disappointed. My first noticeable encounter with real joy only came after I finished Step Eight with my A.A. sponsor. And, by the time I had completed all my Ninth Step amends, it was as if the world had changed from black and white to brilliant living color. Everything in life looked and felt brand new to me. My spirit was now alive.

     I was just getting myself situated with Steps Ten and Eleven when a man I’ll call Jim approached me after an A.A. meeting and formally introduced me to Step Twelve. Today, Jim would be the first to tell you that he was one hot alcoholic-mess when he nervously shuffled up to me that evening, with less than 24 hours of shaky sobriety under his belt. It was April Fools’ Day. Listening through his halting words and unfinished sentences, I could clearly hear that he was asking me for help. He came to my house and we talked over a pot of coffee. That night, A.A. sponsorship began for the first time for both of us. Carefully and gradually leading him through the same Steps which I had just worked only months prior, I was given the joy of watching God gently transform this man into the most amazing and impressive fellow that I’d ever encountered in my life at that point in time. Some twenty-four years later, I still sponsor Jim today and his dynamic personality and his achievements continue to amaze me. He marks April Fools’ Day as his sobriety birthday. I mark it as the day Jim made me his sponsor.

     Jim was merely the first A.A. miracle I was able to witness. There would soon be many others to follow. They would arrive at my home on their appointed evening, clutching a crisp brand new Big Book in their hands, and we’d begin at Step One. By the time they’d get half way through the Steps, their book would be all dog-eared and coffee-stained and marked up with Hi-liter and ink pen. But the worse their Big Book looked, the better they began to look. One-by-one, I was given the joy of watching the dramatic transformation of each one of them as they worked each Step. Over and over again, I've been given the gift of seeing many desperately sick young men experience a spiritual awakening and begin to live lives they never could have imagined. Through Step Twelve, I was able to be there and witness the moment when each man first felt actual joy for himself.

     The Twelfth Step has always been a large part of my sober life, and remains a continuing source of joy for me. However, over the years, my efforts at Step Twelve have broadened far beyond individual sponsorship. I've always had the desire to reach more and more people and touch their lives with the Twelve Steps.

     After so many folks said they were having a lot of trouble trying to write their Fourth Step inventories, I decided that some Fourth Step Inventory Workshops might help them. These turned out to be far more helpful than I ever imagined. From there, I was also encouraged to do some Eleventh Step Workshops with a specific focus on making meditation simple. To my surprise, these efforts produced good results as well. Stemming from those many workshops, it happened that I was lucky enough to write a book on prayer and meditation for recovering alcoholics, which was published by Resurrection Press in 1998. I never meant to write a book. It just happened somehow. You can probably imagine the joy I feel today from knowing that my devotional book is still helping countless people around the world who are trying to make a beginning with meditation at Step Eleven.

     Today, a good part of my A.A. Twelfth Step work is done in the form of the printed word. I like doing it that way because it allows me to do what I've always done from the very beginning. It allows me the privilege of sitting down with you and talking with you personally, one-on-one.

     My newest written Twelfth Step effort is an e-book entitled; Letting God In – One Alcoholic talks To Another About A.A.’s Step Four. Having found that unanswered questions can be a roadblock to an alcoholic in his, or her, 12 Step journey of recovery, this small book approaches many of the normal garden-variety questions that I've been asked most often by my sponsorees and the many folks who've attended my various Step workshops. Within these nineteen Chapters, I try to answer a wide range of difficult questions in a simple, straight-forward manner, from my own personal experience with the Steps – and from my experience as an A.A. sponsor. My greatest hope is that you and I can sit down together and just talk with each other as you read my book, and perhaps get some answers to a few questions of your own. That would truly be another large measure of joy for me.