Lessons in the bittersweet.

As I shared a bit in my last post, good health has unfortunately not been a highlight of the first few months in my new home. Since arriving in Kansas in July, hardly a week has gone by without at least one visit to a doctor, dentist, or orthodontist. I have been a medical mess.. jaw pain, elbow pain, muscle spasms, mysterious rashes, you name it! In the beginning of my time here, I went to many appointments and gained few answers. As my patient mother could tell you from my phone calls home, this caused a lot of frustration for me. And while I’ve learned it’s okay to sit in this emotion for a short time, it’s not healthy to dwell in it.

Thankfully, there are a whole host of things that have helped me gain perspective on this season. One is that I have slowly started to feel better and gain answers. Another is that I have an incredible group of friends and family that have been my biggest encouragers. One reason for writing this post is to say a sincere thank you for your generous phone calls, packages, cards, and emails that helped me gain positivity over the last couple of months. I have also been blessed with work that I believe in and enjoy, as well as new friends who provide laughter and encouragement.

I happen to be (or am rather intentionally) reading this book about what it means to rise strong from times of disappointment and hardship. The author outlines a battle cry for readers – something she calls a ‘Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted’. I love it in its entirety, but the first two stanzas are ones that particularly resonate with me.

There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers
Than those of us who are willing to fall 
Because we have learned how to rise

With skinned knees and bruised hearts;
We choose owning our stories of struggle,
Over hiding, over hustling, over pretending.

As a result of this book, I’ve been digging in and owning this struggle of a season. I’ve gained courage in again hoping that I will feel better, understanding that I risk disappointment if it doesn’t come in the way or speed I expect. In my own way, I am rising stronger, and in doing so I have come to recognize some new things. For one, a lack of answers and desperation for better health has been humbling, as I have been more dependent on God’s word and prayer to maintain the hope that I will get better in time. I have come to a new place of trust, believing that He is working in my waiting.

Another realization is that an increase in the bitter of life’s bittersweet has caused a nearly identical rise in sweet. In other words, it almost seems that the good days and moments have felt a bit sweeter in this season. For example, a couple weeks ago I returned to the World Food Prize events in Iowa, which was what first prompted my interest in international agriculture (and ultimately resulted in this blog for my time in Turkey) six years ago. During this trip, I was able to meet the man that funded my trip as a high school student and thank him for all that he’s done for me. Talk about sweet!

On Thursday I head back to D.C. for vacation so that I can see my lovely host mother for the first time in over 3 years while she is visiting some of our Senegalese family in the area!! While I have told her for years over the phone that I will see her soon, InshAllah (God willing), it’s finally true and I couldn’t be more grateful or excited! It is these events that make me realize – I would take the bitter any day for this kind of sweet. The reality is that daily life is defined by the bittersweet, and we can either be frustrated by that or embrace it fully.

Coincidentally, my recent perspective aligns with this new song by Gungor that proclaims.. 

These are the days we’ve been given
What will you do with each of them?
What will you do with your one wild life?

Brave the rise and fall
Go on and feel it all
I want to feel it all

I want to be present in all of today and whatever bittersweet-ness it brings with it. 

Lessons in transition.

I sat in church last Sunday in my new home of Manhattan, Kansas after having moved just three days prior. My mind wandered to a moment two weeks before that, when I sat surrounded by a small congregation in West Lafayette that I had grown to love over a four year period. Knowing it was my last service before moving, the pastor called me up to the front of the congregation. He handed me the microphone and asked me to tell everyone where I was heading and why. Looking at the many faces that had become so dear to me, I had no words. Tears ran down my cheeks as I stood silent, realizing that a true sadness cannot easily be masked. Eventually I got a few words out before they prayed for me. After the service I said a few goodbyes, and snuck out before the tears returned in full force.

I drove away that morning asking myself why I let my heart fall so hard for people and places like this. The day I left my family in Senegal and also in Turkey, I was overcome with that same sadness and ample tears. It was devastating to leave families that loved me like their own, though it was quite apparent I was not linked to them by blood. As I remembered these similar situations, I was angry at myself. How did I not learn to hold back and not get too close so that I could avoid heartbreak over and over? I was also a bit frustrated with God.. Why would he take me to places and people that I would fall for and eventually have to leave?

The answers presented themselves last Sunday in church. As I sat there by myself, I realized that roughly one year before I sat in that exact same sanctuary. At the time, I was in Manhattan for 2 weeks working on my Master’s research and staying with a couple that knew my major professor at Purdue. (It just so happened that the nation’s experts on sorghum cereal chemistry were located in Kansas). I had a surprisingly wonderful time, and I came to deeply admire the family I stayed with, who had shown me so much kindness. When I drove back to Indiana at the end of those two weeks in June 2014, I left refreshed but with no idea that I was leaving a town I would later call home.

It was this second time in the Manhattan church last Sunday that God whispered, “Don’t you see? I showed you exactly where you were going. I set in place people and a town for you.. And I even gave you a taste before allowing you to experience it in its fullness”.  I marvel in the splendor of it all. Perhaps the other places and people I’ve had to leave in the past will come full circle too, but it’s also quite possible that they won’t.

And this is what made me think, isn’t this all just a taste of where we are going? Of an eternal life that’s to come? When we put our lives in the context of eternity, it’s like the earth beneath our feet shifts. Everything should look different.. WE should be different. It’s okay to capture precious moments in Instagram posts or revived retro Polaroids, as long as we recognize that this is not the end of our joy. I love this quote from C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, and it seems more relevant these days than others.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.

What a complex balance that presents. I think that perhaps then the temporary heartbreak that accompanies transition can serve as a reminder of our earthly blessings as well as the promise that lies beyond them. How wonderful that we are children of a creator that allows to experience such beautiful people and experiences in our lives on earth, but with an even greater promise of an eternal story.


Dear friends, I wrote this several weeks ago and I just now got around to publishing! As you can see, I recently moved to Manhattan, KS to work full-time at Kansas State University on a Feed the Future grant that focuses on sustainable intensification. I am really enjoying the town and the incredibly friendly people I’m getting to know here! With that being said, I have been experiencing some random, unexplained physical pain the last few weeks.. My doctors are running tests to see if there is a medical explanation or if it’s a manifestation of stress release (thanks grad school!). In the meantime, as part of my ‘home team’, could you please pray for my body to be healed in time? I would so appreciate it! Also, after I wrote this, I was able to meet the newest member of my Senegalese family when in D.C. for some training last week. In the spirit of this post, I am so thankful for this kind of earthly blessing!

I got to visit some of my Senegalese family that lives in D.C. while I was on a business trip recently. Here is me and Miss Fatima :)

I got to visit some of my Senegalese family that lives in D.C. while I was on a business trip recently. Here is me and Miss Fatima :)



When words are difficult.

Dear friends,

I have been meaning to write for a while now, as a way to begin to reconnect with some of you I haven’t been in touch with in awhile . Too many times in the last couple months I’ve sat down to write a blog post, email, or Facebook message, and words are simply too difficult (this post took weeks actually – finished it a month ago but just now remembered to click ‘publish’). I write a sentence, and then it seems that I’ve exhausted all that was in me. I must admit, and only for the sake of background and not as an excuse, that the season I just passed through was really hard. Anticipating news, some troubling decisions, and an overall haunting of discouragement and fear that presented itself without explanation. Maybe you’ve also known a season of weeks or months or maybe even years that seem a bit darker the rest. A season when tears fall often and without reason, patience is always thin, and sadness often trumps gladness.

I’m not sure why these periods occur, but I appreciate that throughout them I never stop learning – the kind of learning that involves falling down, scraping my knees, and letting others help me up so I can be better the next time. While they are trying in every aspect of life, the hard seasons often bring the very best of learning. During the month or so that felt like a dark cloud was following me, I chose to wake up each day asking God to bring the sun back into my life. Days passed and nothing changed; the sorrow remained and words were still difficult. Each day seemed to be a bit harder to hope, yet desperation demanded increasing faith. But then one day, something changed. Prayers were answered, decisions came easily, and the world seems to have returned to its usual brightness… A reminder that He does not forget or fail me; healing comes in time.

I apologize that I have not been very present, but I hope to make up for it by sharing some of what’s going on in my brain.. I have this bad habit of receiving an email from Audible (a subscription service that allows you to buy audiobooks) telling me that I have credits to use and then immediately buying a book on a whim. I’ve found myself searching for titles of books that I know little to nothing about, and then clicking that ‘check out’ button before even reading the reviews. While this is probably not the best way to spend my monthly subscription, I must tell you that I think there is some sort of divine intervention taking place in this process. One of my recent acquisitions was Bob Goff’s ‘Love Does’. It is far from a theological text, but rather a conversation with a friend who tells countless light-hearted tales of God’s faithfulness. In this season, it is exactly the encouragement God knew I needed. Below is a bit I found to capture my heart pretty well.

Every day God invites us on the same kind of adventure. It’s not a trip where He sends us a rigid itinerary, He simply invites us. God asks what it is He’s made us to love, what it is that captures our attention, what feeds that deep indescribable need of our souls to experience the richness of the world He made. And then, leaning over us, He whispers, “Let’s go do that together.”

Just as this paragraph suggests, He is again delighting my soul with hopes and dreams and an attitude of joy. I am still far from understanding this crazy world we live in and the life God’s gifted me, but I do know that I am wholly loved by the Creator of the universe and that alone provides me hope. Every day I become more aware of my need for grace, and for God’s voice whispering to me that I am forgiven and that today is a day to do better, love more, and react less strongly. I am empowered by His voice overcoming my fears, telling me that I must trust that he has equipped me to take on this day and love the people he’s placed in my life .

I write today, not to make you concerned over my well-being, but rather to provide an encouraging word that I wish I had received a couple months ago. If you are in a season that is trying and seems endless, I must remind you that it will end and light will come. Maybe it will require time and help from outside sources, but do not lose heart. Perhaps you’ve never seen such a time, and for that I will send up praise with you! But maybe if you know someone in such a place right now, will you do me a favor and sit next to them as they pass through? Will you pray for them and provide love even when it’s not easy? I am so grateful for those in my life who provided that to me recently, and was reminded at how important it is to simply be present amidst pain. I pray that this holiday season, God guides you in determining what or who it is you are made to love and that you go do that just as Bob proposes. What a delightful season is ahead if we keep that in mind.

With love,

Defining passion.

Hi friends, it’s been a while and I hope you don’t mind me sharing a couple thoughts I’ve had lately. Recently I have been writing essays for some scholarship applications, and I have a team here at Purdue helping me along the way. One of the key pieces of advice they have given is to NEVER use the word passion in writing or in an interview. Apparently the word has become so commonplace that is has lost all meaning and substance to reviewers.

Perhaps my generation has overused it, but I see that as more of a positive than a negative trend. I certainly see more and more of my peers seeking purpose and passion in a vocation rather than a lucrative or safe career, and it is difficult to argue that it is a bad thing as long as there is a dose of reality. But why this talk of passion, you might ask?

Well, I would really like to introduce you to my friend Aaron who I have come to view as my own definition of passion. We met in Latin classes in high school (super lame, I know), and we have remained friends ever since. I have been following his journey through the years, and my respect for him has grown continuously – but particularly so in the last few months. You see, Aaron had a pretty kick-butt scholarship to Texas A&M coming out of high school, and he was quite business savvy heading into college. But once he got there, he started dreaming. He came up with a new way of farming, one that is far more sustainable than those we currently utilize. The idea has grabbed ahold of him, and he has given everything to it since then. He dropped out of college to develop a prototype (in his aunt’s backyard nonetheless), learn from his failures, work countless part-time jobs to save for this dream, and certainly understand the meaning of hard work.

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I took this picture of Aaron in front of his prototype farm in June 2013. It was not successful, but it taught him what he needs to do this time around to get things right.

After failed attempts, he is finally ready to make a big push and get this dream off the ground. Part of me thinks he is a bit crazy for sacrificing so much for something so risky. But the other overwhelming portion has the utmost admiration and respect for his perseverance, dedication, and faith. Would I have the guts to pursue something I feel so convicted of?  I realize that no, we aren’t all supposed to drop out of school and try something risky like the Steve Jobs’ and Bill Gates’ out there – but Aaron definitely was. He inspires me to find purpose and give it everything I have, despite the fears that might be present.

I know it seems strange to reach out to you and ask that you might consider putting your faith in an individual you have never met and probably never will. I brought up the idea of a Kickstarter to Aaron a few weeks over coffee, because at his current rate of saving through his job he would not be able to start his work on his dream for several months and this means the loss of a production season. He agreed to start one, and I am so hopeful for its success. This is not a typical mission trip or clothing drive, but it is a cause I believe so strongly in that I feel compelled to share. He has carefully planned a budget, which amounts to the $10,000 he is hoping to raise in his campaign. By investing in Aaron, you would be sending a message that it’s okay to be passionate – at least responsibly so. Even if we can’t use the word, we can live our lives in such a way that we echo it everywhere. I invite you to visit this site below and learn more of his story (the video is AWESOME), and I hope you will prayerfully consider ways you can encourage his mission (that might just mean a simple good luck email, for which I would happily provide Aaron’s email address).


On another note, I truly hope you are all enjoying these sweet days and nights of summer as this season nears its end! The sorghum fields will demand less of my attention after August, and so I hope to catch up with many of you soon :)

The little things.

Hello again. This post I realize is out of the blue, yet not unrelated to the purpose for which I originally created this blog. If you’ll remember, I mean for this to be a way for me to include you on my adventures.  I’ve come to believe that the journey at home is just as important as any international trip or project, because it is the one you and I are living every single day. And honestly, I’m realizing that it is harder than any travels I’ve taken. Since arriving home from the UK in June, I have hit the ground running with little time to look back. In some ways, the last six months have been everything I pictured, yet in others it’s been nothing like I could have imagined. That’s the extraordinary part of time, right? I’d like to share a simple story that prompted me to write this in the first place with a few added thoughts..

You see, this morning I visited an area in the library that consists of maybe 15 computers. When I came in, I observed with disappointment that my favorite spot was already taken and then proceeded to an open machine. I sat down and began to type my login information into the computer, noticing that the person next to me had purchased coffee at the same time I did just minutes before. I then got on my phone, listening to music and checking emails that had arrived overnight. A few minutes later, I looked up to see that my computer screen was still in the “working” blue mode. I figured the system was running a bit slowly and went back to my phone. Another five minutes passed. I looked up and my computer screen was still at the login phase. Frustrated, I got up to go to the IT desk. As I did, I noticed that all of the people at surrounding computers had blue screens too. I immediately said “Nooo you guys have the blue screens too!” They looked at me funny at first, but then recognized too that we all had been having the same problem for about 10 minutes without realizing it. We quickly went from strangers to comrades, figuring out if it was campus wide or if we could do something about it. While we didn’t solve anything since it turned out to be a campus issue, I think it made us all a little less frustrated to know that we weren’t alone in the slow computer boat. I’m not sure about them, but I felt a bit silly that we had all been so absorbed in our own worlds that we didn’t bother to look around.

While this experience was rather menial and didn’t even have a good ending, I feel called to share it. What this situation reminded me was that the people all around us, even the ones we don’t know – they matter. They are no different than you or me. Sometimes I do happen to notice that, like when I saw the guy who bought coffee when I did. However, most of the time everyone else is practically invisible to me, since they don’t seem to have a purpose or a role in my personal story. Think of all the times that this happens.. the grocery store, in traffic, department stores, the mall during Christmas season. I have to remember that they are living, breathing, stressed out, and heart-fully-beating individuals just like me and the people I love. If I believe that, shouldn’t I treat people differently? Shouldn’t I see them in a new light? Something as simple as a smile, letting someone know that I understand their situation, can make a difference – as cheesy as that may sound. I think that in doing this, we can not only improve others’ lives, but we can also gain comfort ourselves knowing that we have a strange sort of solidarity or connection to each human being that exists in our midst.

This nudging to treat people well does not stem from this experience alone. I’m reading the book “40 Chances” by Howard Buffett, and his father was responsible for the Foreword. In it, Warren wrote this about his late wife: “Every person she met — rich or poor, black or white, old or young — immediately sensed that she saw him or her simply as a human being, equal in value to any other on the planet.” What a beautiful model to strive for.. Not only did she have equal respect for everyone, but it was so strong that people could feel it.  I was also reading Romans 12 recently, where again this prompting arose: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves.. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer”.

So what does this have to do with an update on my last six months “back home”? Well, this time has largely revolved around this idea of finding meaning and joy in the everyday and simple interactions.  It has been a process of learning how to balance my desire to fulfill a professional purpose I feel so strongly about while not neglecting my close relationships and even the daily library-like interactions I just described here.  Of course, this has included a fair amount of growing pains and mistakes. There are items on my to-do list that have been on there much too long and prevent me from paying attention to those around me. There have been times when my problem of speaking before I think has gotten me in trouble and hurt people I care about. There are some days when I am scared to ask myself if I am truly embracing the lessons I’ve gained and written about here. But despite my failings, the challenge of  adjusting back to a life of emails and deadlines has prompted growth more than anything. The beautiful thing is that through this process, I am beginning to understand the true meaning of grace, the power of prayer, and the importance of treating people well.

In this short Christmas season, which includes a frenzy of parties, gift buying, and maybe even finals, I think this is a perfect time to be reminded that the little things and people matter. We get to choose how to spend our money, treat strangers, and approach stressful situations. Today I invite you to join me in improving how we do each of these, all the while remembering that if we fail, God’s grace offers us the chance to try again tomorrow.

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