Read Your Strengths: Books that Reflect Connectedness

I could fill pages and pages of books that reflect Connectedness. Pretty much any piece of fiction will foster a new understanding of someone’s story. Well written fiction opens doors, not only to other worlds, but to very real events in our own world. The empathy created by reading these stories connects us to a bigger picture.

But, nonfiction can do the same. Many lines between my choices and my world have first been started through a well-researched book. So, this roundup is a bit of a mix. Some fiction, some nonfiction. All these books helped me see the world around me in new ways. They created empathy and even changed the choices I was making.

Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline
I’ve written about this one before, but it is such an interesting read. Cline delves into the world of fast fashion and the social, economic, and environmental impact a $5.00 t-shirt has on our society. The idea of disposable fashion is filling our landfills and contributing to slave-like conditions in developing nations. What I most appreciated about this book is that Cline gives a practical, doable action plan at the end.

Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone by Eduardo Galeano
This was perhaps my favorite book of 2015. A collection of short stories, Galeano takes us through mythology from cultures around the world. He fictionalizes true events and reports others with accuracy. If finding connections is not your first instinct, this book draws those lines clearly, eloquently, and with grace. Galeano reminds us that our stories are interwoven, since the beginning.

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
This book was a powerful argument against eating meat. What I loved most about it is that Foer wants us to convert to vegetarianism and he isn’t subtle about that argument in his book. He is brutally honest and well-researched about where our meat comes from and the agony we inflict on creatures to feed a habit. This book made me relook at what it really means to steward this earth and what God meant when he put humans as caretakers of animals.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
This collection of letters to Dear Sugar, Strayed’s advice column for The Rumpus, is filled with stories from people of all backgrounds. What I love most is Strayed’s grace-filled advice to her readers. Even the ones who get tough love get it with a heavy dose of humanity. Her responses are also a reminder of the power of storytelling and how, if used well, can be a connector. This book brings out the grittiness of humanity but also restores my faith in human goodness.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Written as a letter to his son, this is a powerful, intimate look at what it means to be a black man in America. This book helped me understand the underlying frustration to so many of my neighbors. Frustration that has, in the past few years, reached a boiling point. This book is a reminder of why we want to keep those feelings boiling – until something changes, this systemic problem isn’t going away. Regardless of how you feel about the handling of current situations, this book will help create empathy and remind those of us with the privilege of not experiencing daily racism why things must change.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I just have one book left to read by Adichie, I love her writing so much. Adichie uses the power of fiction to draw the reader into other cultures, to teach history and sociology, while creating a safe distance for processing. This book particularly, helps the reader understand immigration a bit more. We follow Ifemelu from America back to Nigeria and all of the reverse culture shock that happens as a result. It was a reminder of the difficulties of leaving a home country, but also of the complex situation of returning. Adichie also drives home that immigrating to a new country is deeply complex, more so than anything seen on the surface.

What are some of your favorite books that have helped you connect to a different belief or way of thinking?


This post is Day 21 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.


Connected Consumerism

Yesterday we talked about voting with your dollars and how we each have our own ways of connecting with our purchases and through our lifestyle choices.

Because not everyone sees the connections between our choices and a greater world impact, I thought I’d share a few of the things we do as a family. These are by no means the only way to do life or the most perfect list, but it may be a starting point if you’re looking for a way to make more intentional choices.

1) Thoughtful Donations
I was going through Elle’s drawers the other day and found so many baby blankets, mostly slightly used or new. With each girl, we received new blankets. I have my favorites but some just went unused. (Perhaps this is also due to having summer babies?) I was thinking, with winter coming, I should donate them sooner or later.

Usually, I drop off our donations at the goodwill – there’s one on the way to my parents, so it’s easy. Since this donation was so specific, I decided to do a little bit of research. I found an organization (WeeCycle) that inspects and sorts baby items and then donates them to the appropriate partners. This more specific way of donating seemed like a better option – one in which our things would go to families with the greatest need.

This took a little more time but I’m glad to connect the things we had to people who have a deeper need.

nrNyraiVLpgTZHBhSZMMWbC-09AL5HcRd82sfBEN35U2) Gifts from Fair Trade Organizations
With the holidays approaching, I often turn to Fair Trade organizations for my gifts, especially for people who have everything. My two favorites are Ten Thousand Villages and Mercy House Global. Ten Thousand Villages is great, especially if you live near a brick and mortar store. I love browsing their items and finding beautiful new surprises. Mercy House Global hosts subscription services like the Fair Trade Friday box and the Bracelet and Earring of the Month clubs. These are gifts that keep giving, not only to your recipient but to the women whose lives are impacted by Mercy House’s mission.

3) Farmer’s Market
This is certainly seasonal, but we are fortunate to have a farm stand down the road that’s open every day from the end of July through early October. The people who run the stand collect produce from local farms and then sell it. It’s an easy way to lessen the distance between our purchases and the producers. Yes, we can find “Colorado Proud” labels at our grocery store, but this feels a little more personal.

4) Microloans
We have been longtime supporters of Kiva micro loans, though now you can find quite a few organizations specializing in them. What I love best about supporting Kiva is that you are helping build a business. When your loans is repaid, you have the option of withdrawing the funds or relending. In the six or so years that we’ve been lending through Kiva, we’ve only had a couple of defaulted loans. I love reading the biography, giving to an area of the world with great need, and following the progress of our lender.

Where are some of your favorite places that support connections? How do you live intentionally connected to the world?


This post is Day 20 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Voting With Your Dollars

One of the hardest things about having Connectedness as a strength is being married to someone who doesn’t see the lines that connect us to our world. It’s not that Frank is insensitive or doesn’t care; it’s that it’s not as intuitive for him. When I get fired up about a cause, he’ll listen but it takes a lot more for him to commit to a new way of living.

Fair Trade dress

I have a friend who lives out her ideals. Her clothing is vegan and fair-trade; her food is thoughtfully chosen; she drive an old, gas efficient car, though bikes most places. She is outspoken about social justice causes and often reminds me of a different point of view. Her energy for living her causes fully is inspiring, and exhausting.

I know I can get overwhelmed with information and causes. I have to be guarded as I take in information and process what I’ve learned. Some of this is because it really is impossible, as someone who lives in America where anything I want or need is at my fingertips, to fully research and track every purchase I make. It’s not financially feasible nor is it emotionally feasible.

Just like I’m learning to be picky about what I read, I’m learning to be picky about how I connect with the world.

When I was pregnant with Bea, I researched the best organic, fair trade baby items. I registered for these pricy blankets and onesies and received thoughtful items from Target. It only took a month or so into motherhood to see how disposable children’s clothing is. Spills, stains, and growth spurts are our reality. It’s not that I ever threw away clothes, but I realized that spending $50 on a cute dress to be worn a handful of times just didn’t make sense.

Even now, Bea wears her clothes out. Her leggings have holes and her dresses are paint stained. We are in a phase of being rough on clothing. And I’m learning that this is part of life. I need to balance how I view the purchases of these things.

It’s similar with our food purchases. Some things are non-negotiable. Others, we just don’t have the capacity to worry about everything.

The connected perfectionist in me has a hard time letting go. I want to be like my friend, to champion every cause! I’m also connected enough to know that while my non-negotiable items may not be the same for others, their non-negotiable aren’t the same for me. Maybe, in this game of baby steps, we kind of balance each other when we all choose a particular cause.

I think the key, though, is to be aware of something. Maybe organic food just isn’t your thing or your wardrobe is mostly bought on sale at Target. Maybe your cause is buying a side of beef from a cow you’ve seen raised or eating vegetarian as a response to factory farming. Maybe you make your own clothes or buy locally. Whatever the cause, I think it’s important to have one area of consciousness. One place where you put your money where your values lie.

Maybe one day, we’ll all have the resources and energy to champion all the causes. Until then, I like to think that we’re in this together, each playing our own small part.

What’s your non-negotiable cause? Where do you vote with your dollars?


This post is Day 19 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Sharing Faith By Living It

Like most Christians my age, I have stories of being wounded by the church. Of being unheard, unmet, unappreciated. I’ve been lucky enough (blessed enough?) to always have an intervention at just the right moment. A community who loved me for me or a pastor who recognized my gifts. Small groups who connected me to a larger picture.

For many of my friends and peers, that divine intervention didn’t happen and, for a variety of reasons, left the church.

I’ve often wondered what has kept me. These days, community can be found outside the walls of the church. Spirituality can be deep and profound, regardless of religion affiliation. God can be found in so many places – in nature, at dinner with friends, through solitude and quiet. Why keep the identifier of Christian, especially with such mixed meanings of the word floating around.

According to StrengthsFinder,

The exact articles of your faith will depend on your upbringing and your culture, but your faith is strong. It sustains you and your close friends in the face of life’s mysteries (pg 73).

This is true. No matter how hurt I’ve been or how little I’ve trusted other Christians, at my core, my faith has remained strong. It was never a question of leaving Christ or the greater church.

Something I find interesting is how we as humans approach life’s mysteries. Some of us find the answers in our faith; others in studying science and natural law; others in an unnamable mystery of the universe. But, no matter how religious or agnostic you are, we all seek these unanswerable answers. We all wonder and look and hope to find a deeper meaning to our lives here.

I’ve never been a good evangelizer. Even at my most fundamental, I recognized the idea that the best way to share faith is by living it. I remember being embarrassed while working at a Christian camp one time, admitting that I had never “led anyone to Christ.” This admission made me feel like a failure.

I haven’t kept in touch with any of the campers I had in my care that summer, but I know that none of them went forward on the altar call night. Perhaps that week together shaped their faith – I don’t know. What I do know is that I connected with them and listen to them and played with them for a week. We built a trust and friendship for a week and that was good.

I wonder how our world would look if we held our beliefs a little looser – whatever those beliefs are. I have definitely met what my friend calls “evangelical atheists” – people who preach atheism as strongly as any revival minister. But what if we all committed to recognizing our humanness, to living our faith the best we can, and letting others see the fruits of our beliefs.

I wonder if we would get more converts? My guess is that we may have more peace.

How do you share your faith – posts on Facebook, walks in nature, quiet living, preaching from the pulpit? How do you interact with those whose beliefs are different?


This post is Day 18 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.

Creating Our Family Culture

In high school, I remember having long conversations with a family friend about the evils of shopping at Walmart. I could not understand why someone would choose loyalty to a store that was so under scrutiny for poor employee treatment. (Being the idealistic teenager, I didn’t recognize that most big box stores function similarly…)

For our friend, seeking the best deal on a product was the bottom line – buying from Walmart or Target or the local mom & pop shop didn’t matter. It was made in the same factory but one store charged less.

Taking time to visit Sacagawea’s memorial

The difficult thing with Connectedness as a strength is that while I see the lines between my t-shirt and factory labor clearly, others don’t. And really, it’s not up to me to convince them to see those lines.

I can clearly make connections between the food we eat, the impact factories have on the environment, and the fact that we use precious water resources on animal production. And yet, telling others of this most likely won’t change minds. I can recommend books I’ve found valuable, but what I’m learning is that the most powerful thing I can say is nothing. It’s in the way we live and in the small choices we make as a family that has the biggest impact.

I think of that, especially as Bea notices more and more the choices we are making and she asks the question, why:

Why don’t we eat at “Old MacDonald’s”?

Why do we write to Samuel and Flaviane? (Our Rwandan sponsored children.)

Why do we put money in the red bag at church?

All these questions – and so many more! – create our family’s culture. And the answers to those questions help create connections between Bea and a broader world. A world where our choices, from the clothes we buy to the food we eat to the budgeting decisions we make don’t just impact our family. They are choices that connect us to the world and to families like ours.

Seeing our part in the world, drawing those lines is incredibly important to me. (I guess this makes sense, as Connectedness is my second-strongest strength.) Because of this, I’m trying to be more intentional in how I present these relationships to our daughters. I want them to be conscientious and aware, but also to make these discoveries for themselves. So I answer the questions and make sure they see and hear us debate our purchases – the whys and hows. Even though we give online, we also physically give at church and to other charities, so the girls see this tangible act.

These small ways, and the conversations that come because of them, is how I hope to create global citizens. I hope our daughters become women who don’t find their allegiance with a country but with the world; who are loyal to all people, regardless of background or culture.

Do you see connections in your world? How do you respond to that big picture?


This post is Day 17 of the Write 31 Day Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the StrengthsFinder test. You can find the entire series over at Live Your Strengths page.