When I first started teaching way back in 2003, I would give students that made an A on a test a “smartie” (a rather unappetizing piece of candy.) It seemed to work pretty well, as students were really happy to get their smartie and some would even hold on to the wrapper and put it in their binder as a sort of trophy. A few years into my career, I switched from smarties to offering students stars if they made an A on a test. These were simple stars cut out of construction paper and laminated. I would give them a star and a Sharpie to write their name on the star, and then I would staple their star to my bulletin board. Over the course of the semester, I would fill the bulletin board with stars, each representing good effort and mastery of content by my students.

When I started teaching at Stony Brook this year, I decided to again use the stars to recognize mastery and hopefully encourage students to care about Geometry.

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Man… did it ever work!

These students have blown me away. Seriously, I cannot say how much fun it is to teach these kids. I look forward to going to class every day, and it’s largely because of the way my students respond and interact with me. I cannot imagine doing anything else at this point.

I bought five packs of stars back in August (each pack has 48 stars, so I thought ~250 would be enough for the year.) By the sixth unit, I had bought all the stars I could find locally and ended up ordering more online. I have probably spent upwards of $50 on paper stars… next year I will figure out a more cost effective solution! Ha!

One of the incredibly fun things that has happened as a result of implementing the stars in my classroom is that my students use the stars as mini-billboards. It’s actually HI-LARIOUS.

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They use the stars to call each other out. They use the stars to brag. They use the stars to show off their artistic talent.

And, as if all of that wasn’t enough, there is this star. The one that prompted this entire post.

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“All Hail, The Queen!
Her Royal Highness, Mrs N. Holm
The Geometric Queen and Royal Ruler of The Stony Brook School
Rest Under the Lord’s Grace”

This star was created a few weeks ago by a student that cracks me up all the time. After receiving his star, I saw him hastily pull a couple of pre-cut paper figures from under his book. Apparently he had come prepared with different sizes of Queen Holm figures because he didn’t know which one would fit on the star better. I honestly don’t think I have ever laughed so much in class before. OH. MY. GOODNESS.

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I’m actually quite humbled by how eagerly my students have embraced the stars. It makes me realize how much they long for recognition… how much we all do. I see in so many of them that same hunger I feel to measure up and to feel like I’m “okay.” I love each and every one of my students so much and I wish I had more than a paper star to give them.

As adults, the stars we collect are not necessarily made out of paper, but we nevertheless spend time and effort gathering around us little trophies to show the world and ourselves that we measure up. This world is so, so hard and we often hear the message that we must achieve and accomplish to know that we are okay. But sadly, the harsh truth is that we aren’t okay. But the even better Truth is that if we are in Christ, we are made glorious by the One that has accomplished our salvation! It is something that I still have to remind myself of daily, sometimes minute-by-minute.

I am thankful to have the opportunity to love on these kids and to share life with them. I hope they are having as much fun as I am.

 

Oh man.

I’m not entirely sure how this happened, but here we are, in Stony Brook, NY. These last two weeks have been some of the hardest weeks of my life– we said good-bye to friends and family (and our house), loaded all our possessions into a 26′ moving truck, and traveled north to the land of parkways and toll roads.

There is a lot to share and much to reflect upon, so I figured I might as well resurrect the ‘ole blog as a means of keeping in touch with my people. There are many things I am feeling right now, but thread that runs through it all is Phil 3.

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection.

That bit of scripture has always been particularly meaningful to me. Years ago when I was in college, I read Philippians 3 and it utterly changed me. I changed career paths from engineering to teaching. I let go of a lot of my preconceived notions about how my life was going to go and what I wanted to accomplish. I started the process of finding my identity in Christ instead of in the world. In short, I’ve tried to count all the things wanted as loss and instead cling to Christ, wanting to be found in him. Over the years, Michael and I slowly carved out a pretty fantastic life for ourselves. Living in the same place for so long allows you to get comfy. We bought an old farmhouse and spent 10 years transforming it into exactly what we envisioned. We settled into deep friendships with people that truly reflect the Gospel, and we’ve been changed by what we’ve seen. We have been incredibly blessed and know that all the good things in our lives have been given to us by the Giver.

Ever since my college days of discovering Philippians 3 and trying to figure out what it means to “count all things as loss,” I’ve constantly reminded myself that Christ is what matters. Jobs, houses, cars, 401k’s, vacations, etc. are not what I strive to obtain. Instead, it is people– souls– that we want to invest in. Dying to yourself so others can flourish is what we are called to do.

So here I am, almost 15 years after first reading Philippians 3. And I’m learning anew what it means to count all things as loss. This time it isn’t an engineering degree that will make people think I’m smart, or a job that pays a lot of money so I will finally feel like I’m okay. No, this time I’m counting some really beautiful things as loss– things that God himself has given me. And it’s harder than I ever imagined it would be.

But lest we despair, it helps to read the rest of Philippians 3. We don’t just count all things as loss, but also remember that we have gained Christ and are found in him! The extent to which I am able to remember the surpassing worth of Christ and to focus on what I have gained in him, is the extent to which I can give thanks for the last few weeks. Please pray for me (and for my family) that we would look to Christ, remember his surpassing worth, and live out of that reality.

 

It’s been a long time since I’ve updated. Life has a habit of getting in the way these days. I’m plugging away– working, raising babies, doing laundry, taking photos. Time is moving ahead and spring is coming. I’m thankful for longer days and more light. Both as a photographer and as a mom. I’m excited to be able to play outside again and am looking forward to what warmer weather will bring.

Along those lines, I have some projects I am working on and am very excited about. Stay tuned for more information, especially if you are local! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite recent shots. The boys haven’t been so cooperative lately, so I’ve resigned myself to working with more compliant subjects. Ha!

 

 

January 8, 2013

My heart is heavy tonight, as it seems is often the case these days.

Today I took my two sons to the funeral of their grandmother. Michael’s mother passed away over the Christmas holiday and today we said good-bye. She had been suffering for the past 2 years from ALS, a truly horrible disease. There is some amount of comfort knowing that she is no longer suffering as she once was. And yet, death is always so, so sad. It isn’t how things are meant to be.

It seems that I only write these days when I am sad. It’s just that life is so busy with the details of keeping babies alive, the house clean, food cooked, and work completed. I can go days without thinking of anything more meaningful than when Judah last ate or if Jeremiah has been changed into proper clothes instead of wearing his pajamas all day. And when I do have a few quiet moments to think, I find myself dwelling on the difficult parts of life– wishing them away, wishing for peace and ease and all those blissful years when I was unaware of how broken this world really was.

I have a clear memory of sitting in a Bible study back in 2007– it was a Beth Moore study on “Fruits of the Spirit” put on by a local church. It was one of those studies where you got a workbook and there were five mini-lessons that you were to go through each week. You were supposed to do one every day, but I always found myself doing all five the night before the meeting. We would sit at the same tables and watch Beth on the video screen then talk about what we had written in our workbooks that week. I remember our table-leader, Hannah, saying something that has  played through my mind frequently these last five years. She said that right now, this moment in life, was probably the best it was ever going to get. There we were, girls in our mid-20′s, experiencing a pretty normal life path. Many of us were married or dating, we had jobs/careers to look forward to, children, houses, and hobbies to dream about. None of us had experienced real loss. I remember her saying that she knew there was a day coming where her parents would die. Friends would disappoint her. Her health would fail. And it hit me– this world is not my home. This existence that I’ve carved out for myself where I’m comfortable and happy– it isn’t going to last.

I suppose there’s always been a fair dose of pessimism that colors my outlook on life. I always seem to notice the holes in a plan and find it easy to play “devil’s advocate.” Maybe that’s why Hannah’s comment stuck with me so clearly over the years. It definitely felt like one of those life-defining moments– a sobering, water-in-your-face kind of moment that wakes you up from the dream that has become normal life.There’s no going back. Dumbledore has died, Aslan has been slain, evil exists and bad things happen. Good will triumph in the end, and all the sad things will indeed come un-true, but in the meantime pain and death seem to reign.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to say here. I guess I’m just feeling stripped bare, not sure that I can take much more. So much seems to have been taken away this past year, and truth be told, I am just hoping for spring to come soon, with its promise of new beginnings. And maybe that’s the key– Lewis talks about the seasons and how perfectly they capture our need for rhythm. It feels like it’s been a year of winter but never Christmas… but perhaps that is getting ready to change and the rivers of ice will melt, grass will grow again, and the warmth of the sun will be felt deeply– all the way to my bones.