Creating Structure

Summer 2013 (2)As discussed in The Importance of Structure, we humans need appropriate structure for productivity and to help keep negative habits from running rampant. This holds true in a variety of settings from businesses to families to classrooms. In fact, creating structure where none exists often serves to undo long-standing poor behavior.

My youngest son (now 12) provides a perfect example of this truth. For 8 years of his life, he had no structure. He moved from house to house (and often hotel to hotel), always around different people except for his older half-sister. School was optional. At some point, as his birth mother became increasingly absent, his behavior went from undisciplined to unruly.

Yet, over the past almost four years, as we applied the advice of a wise adoption case worker to provide consistency, our son is now a responsible young man who loves to serve at church and cares about his grades. He now reads above his grade level, and he is no longer classified as a special education student.

The advice to be consistent with our son really revolved around providing structure. For starters, he simply needed to know that the basics of life would stay the say from having enough food to eat to where and when to sleep.

Essential Elements of Structure

While many elements exist for solid structure, several essential elements seem to rise to the top. From business success to raising godly kids to helping students achieve learning success, the essential elements of solid structure seem to always include consistency, organization and discipline.

Consistency provides security and safety that encourages stretching and trying new things. Organization gives a better chance of not only completing but finishing strong. And discipline, while usually resisted at the time, provides the learning necessary for growth.

When creating and maintaining structure, though, we must remember that too much structure can stifle. Overdoing structure results in attitude problems leading to disobedience and disrespect. Working to constantly maintain a balance within structure, changing with the seasons of life, is crucial for structure to produce positive results.

Results of Appropriate StructureMattawan (8)

Like the essential elements of structure that rise to the top, there also seems to be certain positive results that consistently show up as well. To begin with, confidence comes when individuals overcome self-defeating habits in the safe environment of positive structure.

Security also results from solid structure because children, students and employees alike know what’s expected of them as well as what to expect from their performance.

Growth physically, mentally, spiritually and socially also takes place as confidence grows within a consistent and organized structure. Without this type of structure, we get stuck in ruts and negative habits simply because they are comfortable and change isn’t.

Structure for Sanity

I wish I could say that our focus on structure with our son came purely from a desire to simply do what was best for him. It did not. In fact, a large part of my motivation stemmed from wanting to stay sane. I needed the structure to keep my frustration from venturing into really unhealthy levels (well, staying there anyway… it got there plenty of times). I needed it to have a game plan that I desperately hoped would pay off.

Even though born out of self-serving motivations, my desire to create solid structure eventually turned into truly believing in its foundational ability to create consistently positive results.

DISCUSSION: Discuss your experience with structure. Also, what application regarding structure can you make to/with God’s Word?

For a slightly different take on the importance of structure, check out Does a Book Need Structure to Be Published? at The Write Practice. You may also be interested in reading Thinking About Structure, which sort of started this recent focus of mine on structure.

By the Grace of God

1 PeterHow many Bibles do you have in your home? How many churches are within a 5-mile radius of you? How many Bible studies/devotions do you have?

Now consider the number of people in your church. What about the number of other believers you know at work? At least in America, we aren’t yet short on people who at least know of God and many of us are blessed to be able to regularly interact with godly people who encourage us.

Add to these numbers the available resources on the Internet and television, and it’s safe to say we don’t lack for opportunity to learn about God.

I love to learn about God, about His promises of blessings and how He has a plan for my life and that His plan is for a future and a hope. But I must admit that this sometimes replaces actually knowing God.

Consider Job

In Job 1:1, God said to Satan,

“Have you noticed my servant Job? Look at this man of integrity, the finest in all the earth, who fears God and rejects all evil (Job 1:8).”

But while Satan considered Job by saying he was who he was because of His riches and prosperity, let us consider Job and why God felt confident allowing Satan to test him.

Ephesians 1Job amazes anyone who takes the time to study his life. He lost everything… wife, kids, wealth, health… and still remained a man of integrity, still feared God and still rejected evil. No matter what happened, Job simply refused to turn from God. If you haven’t read the full story, please do so. It’s an amazing one and so full of impact that James references him as a prophet.

“For examples of patience and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, look at the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. Job is an example of a man who endured patiently. From his experience we see how the Lord’s plan finally ended in good, for he is full of tenderness and mercy” (James 5:10-11).

In The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge points out a fact about Job that not only had I not considered before but that struck me as tremendously profound.

“The thing that’s stunningly amazing is that Job survived his ordeal without the aid of written Scripture, without the support of godly friends, and without anyone who could speak the prophetic word of the Lord to him.”

Job was the first book of the Bible to be put on paper. As such, Sorge notes that

“it’s fascinating to consider what was the first message that the Holy Spirit wanted to establish with quill and ink.”

Job went through tremendous trials, unimaginable heartache and significant loneliness before getting any understanding of God’s working in his life. And, it turns out, Job went through all of this alone with literally just his faith in God to sustain Him.

How is this possible?Ephesians 2

How could Job “patiently endure” so much and never turn from God?  Without a study Bible or a Bible dictionary or a church to go to or encouraging friends or a devotional or the Internet (gasp!), how did he make it?

Sorge helps answer the question by saying,

“The fact that Job came through with his faith intact is testimony both to the grace of God on his life and to the eminent stature of his spirituality.”

The grace of God absolutely answers this question. And the answer forces me to confront aspects of my own spirituality, namely the lack of recognition of God’s grace in my own life – or maybe it’s more that I take His grace for granted – and the over-dependence on tools for knowing about Him. I’m not saying these tools are bad, but I am saying they can distract from simply basking in His grace.

Don’t get rid of your Bibles and study tools or stop using those awesome Internet resources, and certainly don’t stop connecting with other godly believers. These are all good, useful and worthwhile. But perhaps, like me, you need to become more aware – or re-aware – of His grace. Perhaps spending more time recognizing and thanking Him for His grace in your life before delving into those tools will make them even more effective. Perhaps.

DISCUSSION: In what other ways does a focus on the tools distract us from focusing on God’s grace?

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger is reading, and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other active participants include Dusty, Glynn, Joell, and Rick at present.

The Importance of Structure

body-paragraph-structureWhen I taught developmental writing years ago at a community college, the first lessons revolved around structure. Good paragraphs require topic sentences plus 3-5 supporting sentences plus concluding sentences. All the sentences within a paragraph focuses on a single topic clearly stated in the topic sentence. Later, as students’ abilities grew, we moved on to the structure of good essays, building on what we learned about paragraphs.

When students came to class the first day, they lacked confidence not just in their writing abilities but in their ability to even learn to write well. After all, those entering a developmental writing class in college typically either failed miserably in high school writing class or had not seen the inside of a classroom for over 20 years.

Right away, I encouraged students to trust the process. If they did, they would learn to write and communicate more clearly, a great benefit in whatever career paths they chose. I focused on teaching structure in writing that transferred easily to whatever situation their future jobs presented.

As I encouraged students to trust the process of learning to write, I also worked to provide a consistent classroom structure to help them feel safe while building trust. I believed this structure would go a long way in not only developing them as writers but also in preparing them as individuals for life in the “real world.”

shutterstock_106489583Little did I know that years later this same approach would also provide much-needed structure for my own kids both in their schoolwork and as individuals. The idea of consistent structure proved immensely helpful for my youngest son who,  until we adopted him at age 9, knew nothing of structure.

In addition to experience in the classroom, years working in business services and from watching my husband climb the corporate ladder illustrated the necessity of structure for business success. Then, when my kids started playing organized sports, the need for consistent structure once again proved itself important.

Scripture also supports the need for structure. The Old Testament law attempted to provide structure to keep the Israelites from losing focus on God. Paul provides structure for speaking in tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:27. Several scriptures, Old and New Testament, provide structure for making decisions about tithing & giving (Numbers 18:25-29; Deuteronomy 26:1-10; Malachi 3:6-17; & 2 Corinthians 8-9). Even details about end-time events (Daniel & Revelation), while still quite mysterious, provide structure helping to identify the unfolding events leading to Jesus’ return.

Whether in the classroom, the corporate world, the baseball team, or a home, structure provides a safe arena for growth. In fact, structure is so important that God’s Word exists to provide us with a guide around which we can structure our living.

Perhaps the best way to understand the need for structure, though, exists in considering its absence. Over this past summer, I lost some sense of structure partially because of travel and partially because of summer vacation from school but largely because I failed to adapt to the changing season. As a result, my youngest son’s behavior became inconsistent, and he began to struggle in ways similar to when he first came to us. I even noticed the affects of lost structure in myself as well, realizing that my productivity both physically and mentally depended on consistent structure.

adler quote

Humans need structure. We need the comfort of what to expect in order to be willing to experience the discomfort of growth. Some people need more structure than others, and needs vary by situation. Some people need others to establish structure, and some do well establishing their own. No one’s needs for structure are exactly the same, but everyone needs it to some extent.

The upcoming post “Creating Structure” looks at the essential elements of structure, the results that can be expected with appropriate structure, and why, even though we need it, we sometimes tend to resist structure.

DISCUSSION: How has the existence and/or absence of structure impacted your life?

Pure Delight!

Delight: A high degree of pleasure or enjoyment.

RocksMy oldest son (age 14) recently played keyboards on our church worship team for the first time.

My youngest (age 12) gave up about 20 hours in the last few weeks of summer vacation to haul rocks for our church landscaping.

My heart truly feels full when my kids use their time, talents and treasure to bless others. My pure delight in my kids fills me to overflowing with joy when they move beyond their personal comfort to serve God. In fact, when they bless others, I am eager to bless them.

God feels the same way about His kids. He also wants to bless us when we honor him in any area of our lives.

“. . . he delights in those with integrity” (Proverbs 11:20).

“. . . he delights in the prayers of the upright” (Proverbs 15:8).

“My strong enemy was too strong for me but the Lord was my strength and support. He brought me into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me” (Psalm 18:17-19).

When we live with integrity, He delights in us. When His kids pray, He’s delighted. He delights so much in the upright that He infuses them with strength and support, and He enlarges and delivers them.

Delightful Blessings9-8-13 Jon on keys

When I bless my kids, they never wonder what what’s happening. They know I am pleased with them and that I’m showing that pleasure in a tangible way.

God’s delight in us comes through in obvious ways too, but His blessings far exceed any I give my kids. God’s blessings include…

  • Strength – Courage, power & energy.
  • Support – Supply, brace & preserve.
  • Enlargement – Amplification, increase & growth.
  • Deliverance – Freedom, relief & salvation.

The following verses capture these specific blessings well…

“The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He will make me as surefooted as a deer and bring me safely over the mountain.” (Zephaniah 3:19) 

“They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.” (2 Samuel 22:19-20, ESV)

“Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, ‘Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.’ And God granted his request.” (1 Chronicles 4:10)

“You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah” (Psalm 32:7)

Being a parent helps me understand how God feels about me, how He delights in my obedience and wants to bless me when I turn to Him. Just like I want to bless my kids when I am delighted with them, God even more so delights in and wants to bless me. And just as my kids don’t have to guess when I am blessing them out of my delight with them, God’s blessings of delight come through loud and clear in my own life as well.

DISCUSSION: In what other ways does God show His delight?

Thinking About Structure

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Structure in clothing accentuates positives and gives negatives less impact.

Structure with shoes prevents pain and discomfort from immobilizing and stealing energy.

Structure in writing brings clarity and makes ideas more appealing and accessible.

Structure at church provides a comfort level that allows acceptance of some discomfort.

Structure in a home brings the consistency needed to feel safe.

Structure in sports strengthens individuals and teams.

Structure means having a system, a form or a configuration for navigating life.

Structure involves the relationship or organization of component parts of a whole.

Structure arranges individuals parts in an organized fashion.

Structure allows for knowing what to expect and to depend upon, which allows for stability to navigate the unknown and unexpected.

Structure plus simplicity equals a powerful combination for productivity & impact.

Structure, or lack thereof, in a person’s thought life impacts all other areas of life.

sf_lordsPrayer_04

Structure in thinking leads to captive thoughts and renewing of the mind. (2 Corinthians 10:5)

Structure grows and changes and needs periodically assessed in order to prevent a chronically overwhelmed life.

Structure provides an avenue for good ideas to flourish.

Structure helps confidence flourish.

Structure needs vary from person to person and situation to situation.

Structure for talking to God, though not required, can revive a person’s prayer life. (Matthew 6:9-13)

Structure keeps productivity alive when mood & feelings might otherwise kill it.

DISCUSSION:

Structure needs to exist, but how do we create & maintain it?

What struggles do you have with structure? What about successes?

What advice do you have for those struggling with structure (that’s all of us from time to time)?

Controlled Burn

When on vacation, my family and I enjoy studying facts about the area where we are staying. So, at the start of our Gatlinburg, TN vacation, I bought the book “Great Smoky Mountains Trivia” at the Visitor’s Center.

While our kids had no idea, my husband and I immediately understood the reference to Smokey Bear in a few of the questions. For those of you who are too young to remember, let me educate you on Smokey Bear’s wisdom.

“Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires.”029c3232ce6c7a15355efd406fb8ecfb

Smokey Bear started telling people about fire danger in 1944. He was a cartoon bear used by the National Forest Service in a campaign to protect national forests from human-caused fires. In the campaign, Smokey Bear often pointed and declared that “Only YOU Can Prevent Wildfires.”

While still active, the campaign now features a realistic-looking bear, still pointing. However, those of us who remember Smokey Bear likely realize the significant absence of this campaign as compared to its heyday.

Great Smoky Mountains Trivia”explains that foresters now recognize fire can benefit nature. Today, park managers decide on a case-by-case basis whether or not to fight fires or allow them to clean the forest.

Additionally, the National Forest Service now educates people on the benefits of fire. They still educate about fire safety and being responsible to not carelessly cause a forest fire that could destroy homes and wildlife, but the finger-pointing pressure seems to be off of “YOU” just a bit. In fact, forest experts explain that fire can significantly benefit forests so much so that they sometimes intentionally start or “prescribe” them.

Prescribed FiresAugust 2012 (16)

Known as a “controlled burn,” a prescribed fire “refers to the controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions that help restore health to fire-adapted environments.”

Forest experts name the following as benefits of “prescribed fire”:

  1. Reduces excess brush, shrubs & trees that stifle new growth.
  2. Encourages new growth to flourish in space created by burned excess.
  3. Maintains structure for the many plants and animals that need fire to stay healthy.
  4. Reduces catastrophic damage from unplanned fires that destroy homes and other land beyond the forests.

The key with “prescribed fires” lies with their execution at the hands of experts who carefully plan the fires so they can be used in constructive ways.

The Last Days’ Fire

Forest experts understand the benefits of a “prescribed fire,” and that understanding transfers well into what Bob Sorge in “The Fire of Delayed Answers” says about “The Last Days’ Fire.”

Sorge says that “the righteous will understand what this fire is all about. They will embrace the fire, and rather than finding it destructive they will discover it to be constructive in their lives.”

The fire Sorge refers to are the “trials” named in Daniel 12:10: “Many will be purified, cleansed and refined by these trials… Only those who are wise will know what it means.”

Just like forest experts use “prescribed fire” to benefit the forest, God also uses fire to purify, cleanse and refine us. He uses it to prepare us as vessels for “honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21).

Without God’s refining fire, we become overgrown with excess. We become distracted, our lives filled to the point that new growth cannot flourish. Even our basic structures become damaged because we can no longer fit in that (fellowship & time with God) which promotes growth.

God’s refining fire, his “controlled burn” in our lives reduces excess. This process purifies and strengthens our love making us increasingly aware of what Sorge describes as the “apathy, greed, lukewarmness, materialism, and the self-indulgent spirit” of the culture in which we live.

Unlike Smokey Bear, God does not point at “YOU” to prevent fire in your life. Instead, He asks that you look to Him as the expert in refining through fire, trusting that His “controlled burn” results in healthier and stronger lives.

DISCUSSION: How do you react to the “controlled burn” of God’s expertise?

This post connects with an Internet Book Study introduced to me by my friend Rick at Planned Peasanthood. In addition to Rick’s posts on the book, be sure to also check out those by Jason, Dusty, Sarah, and Glynn. The “club” covers a chapter in the book “The Fire of Delayed Answers” by Bob Sorge every two weeks.

The Importance of Connection

connect1Who are the most important people in your life? Do you spend regular time and quality time with them? How do you make sure you stay connected to them?

When we are disconnected, we have less patience with one another. The less quality time we spend together, the more we get into the habit of living separate lives instead of living life together. Not a great feeling. Sort of lonely.

Connection takes deliberateness. It takes compromise and sacrifice. And, it also takes creativity.

By no means do I have this connection thing figured out. In fact, I write this post in hopes of finding ways to better connect. With that being said, consider the following ideas for connecting.

Books – My fiction reading revolves around what my 14-year-old reads. Basically, I read whatever he recommends. We talk about the books, watch and talk about associated movies, discuss actors/actresses good for playing certain characters, and look forward to new books coming out. I am willing to let my son choose my books indefinitely, even for the rest of my life. What if no matter where either of us goes, we connect through the books we read? Yeah, I would be okay with never choosing another fiction book to read.

Food – My youngest loves food. He’ll try just about anything. He also enjoys cooking. So we choose recipes and make meals together. I’m not a great cook, but he loves helping me. I’m not also very good at asking for help or accepting it when it’s offered, and that needs to change.

Coffee – I truly enjoy good coffee, and I love having coffee with my husband. We have it Saturday mornings together when possible and every day when on vacation. We even have coffee “together” when we’re apart. And usually, not always when we’re apart, we talk while we drink coffee. We need this to exist no matter what else is going on in our lives.

Mom – My mom & I text regularly, and she’s faithful about stopping by each week to say “hi.” We take a yearly weekend trip together in lieu of birthday, Christmas & Mother’s Day gifts. We sometimes exercise together, and we try to schedule family game nights often. Connecting with mom has always existed for me, and I need it to always be there.

Friends – Exercising together. Coffee together. Going to each other’s kids’ sporting events. Grocery shopping together. Finding ways to connect in the everyday events of life. A connecting text or email helps when face-to-face can’t happen. Online friendships involve commenting on blogs regularly and sometimes sending personal emails. And, even for those of us who don’t care for it, sometimes talking on the phone needs to happen to make sure friends stay connected. connect6

Why is connection so important? Scripture tells us to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11) and to stir one another up (Hebrews 10:24). It says we need each other to make us better (Proverbs 27:17). God’s presence becomes amplified when we’re with other believers (Matthew 18:20). We are also to have unity and brotherly love (1 Peter 3:8). None of this happens consistently and with much effectiveness without regular connection.

To better understand the importance of connection in your life, consider how you feel when you lack connection. Even though I’m an introvert and a loner, I need regular connection for encouragement, motivation, improvement, more of God’s presence, enjoyment of the blessings of unity and, most importantly, to truly give and receive love.

Sure, I can motivate and improve myself. Sure, I can experience God’s presence on my own. I can also say I love others easily. Yet, none of this quite measures up to the experience of connecting with others. Nothing can replace connecting. In fact, connecting with others amplifies my life in a way that isn’t otherwise possible. Without connecting, I am truly limited in virtually every area of life.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about the who, what, when, where & why of connecting?

Busy as a Bee

beesA favorite aspect of sitting on my deck in summertime involves watching & listening to all the creatures. Squirrels play in trees, sometimes rather aggressively. Birds chatter, often quite loudly. (Crows make A LOT of noise.) And of course, lots of bugs doing what bugs do.

Probably the most attention-getting are the bumblebees. Buzzing alerts me to their presence, and I like to know when bees are nearby. But for the most part, we leave each other alone.

Bees fascinate me. Not only are they an impossibility (at least according to scientists), they focus on their work with undaunting devotion. While they like all my flowers, they especially like my lavender and lilac bushes.

Bees do what they do because of instinct, and I believe this instinct exists in humans too. The difference is that we can choose to ignore it, and bees cannot. With this in mind, consider that perhaps “busy as a bee” might get at Paul’s intent when he instructs us to “walk in” the good works “God prepared in advance” for us to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Follow my logic here. If God planned or prepared good works for us to complete long before we were even conceived, wouldn’t that make those good works sort of instinctive?

Now I realize this doesn’t mean we are preprogrammed like bees to complete every detail of our lives. God certainly doesn’t want robots. However, His Word along with our individual gifts, talents and interests certainly go a long way in providing a natural inclination as to where we should focus.

God planned “good works” for us to accomplish, and He planned them “long ago,” and we are to simply – perhaps somewhat instinctively – “walk in” them (Ephesians 2:10). Why don’t we then?

Maybe we over-think what we are to do (I know I do anyway), wishing God would be more specific. Maybe we get distracted by money, status or success. Maybe we’re afraid, perhaps of failure or even of success.

Bees get distracted too, I’ve noticed. Oddly, they usually get distracted by us. Seems like they think we’re flowers sometimes, but we also sometimes disrupt their work (intentionally and unintentionally). Even when they do get distracted, bees fairly quickly return to their work (purpose), not deterred for long.

In my almost daily observations of bees, three life lessons come to mind.

Busy Bee Lessons

  1. Deal with distractions, if necessary, then get back to work. When life gets overwhelming, sometimes it’s best to simplify and focus on being busy like a bee. When we focus on what comes naturally and move from one task to another without having to analyze and plan, we often find an instinctive natural flow the makes us productive like no other time.
  2. Do what comes naturally instead of living in convenient confusion. Analyzing and planning are not necessarily wrong, but they can definitely stand in our way of making progress. They also work nicely as excuses at times. Sometimes, we need to rely on that which is already planned for us and simply walk in it.
  3. Follow God’s agenda instead of asking Him to bless your schedule. Sometimes we need to remember to check with Him before planning our days. We need to find out what He planned for us and do our best to make His will our schedule instead of asking Him to bless our plans.

Perhaps this analogy doesn’t work perfectly, and the idea of our good works being instinctive doesn’t quite fit with how a bee stays instinctively busy. But as I watch the bees wake up every morning (seriously, one was still as if sleeping when I went out and suddenly started moving after about an hour), I can’t help but think about how applying their instinctive work ethic to the good works God planed for me long ago might be more effective than the desert wanderings where I so often find myself.

DISCUSSION: How does observing instinct help in understanding ourselves better? Or, maybe it doesn’t. Thoughts?