Helpless to Helpful, One Block at Time

As an empowered, white young woman with a college degree and healthy dose of idealism, the world is my oyster. But instead of embracing this freedom, I love to feign displeasure at all of the overwhelming choices I have to make on a daily basis:


Paper or plastic or BYObag? Grad school or work experience? Skinny jeans or jeggings?

(Don’t worry, I only have one pair of jeggings and I only wear them on casual Fridays #FirstWorldProblems.)

As much as I pretend to get all flustered and overwhelmed and indignant that I am “too empowered,” the truth is, I love being in control. What I don’t love is not knowing what to do with this control. I want quick answers and color coded set of instructions.

I was a meticulous organizer even as a child. I numbered all of my toy blocks and could only build up in numerical order (childhood OCD, anyone?). It was my way of constricting the overwhelming world of construction possibilities into manageable chunks—one block on top of another.

But outside the protected walls of kindergarten and playtime, these manageable chunks are hard to come by and after a guilt-ridden semester abroad I found myself completely paralyzed, unable to determine block number one.

In the midst of depression and guilt, Love began to speak to me, to urge me out of my shell of shame. I discovered that regardless of my circumstances or how I felt about a situation or all of the million and one factors that conspired to render me frozen and hopeless, I could still choose love. You probably all realized this years ago and I’m just a bit of late bloomer, but I found (and still find) it incredibly empowering to know that I can choose my response. I can’t choose whether or not the world is fair or children die of starvation in Nicaragua (well, not as directly as I’d like), but I can choose my attitude and my next steps.

Instead of watching helplessly as my guilt spun out of control, I stopped doing the things that made me feel guilty. Shopping made me feel sick and guilty after a semester of living out of a backpack, so I decided not to buy clothes for the rest of the year. My roommates teased me and tempted me with shopping excursions and confounded looks, but I found peace in the fact that my actions were beginning to match my beliefs.

I discovered there were many ways I could help the poor, live more sustainably, and incorporate the ideals I had learned about in Costa Rica. But instead of knowing what I should do, but remaining ensnared in guilt, anger, and despair, I actually started to change, to act, to live. I volunteered my time. I began to let my mom and my friends back into my life. I was more intentional about what I bought and how I spent my money. I started going to church again not because I felt guilty or thought it was something I was supposed to do, but because I missed the community. And I didn’t fight every word the pastor said. In small ways, I found I could make a difference.

It was these manageable chunks—one step at a time, one foot in front of the other—that helped me climb reluctantly out of my post-study abroad poverty stupor.

Regardless of what phase of life you’re in, from complacent to content to contrite, I think these manageable chunks of love are the best way to bring about lasting change, the best way to learn to choose love. And I guess this isn’t so much of a new epiphany for me, but more of an addendum to my early days of block numbering.

It’s these baby, baby steps of selflessness and compassion that spur us toward becoming more loving, more compassionate, and more fully engaged in our world.

The knowledge that I can choose to love and empower and give through my thoughts and actions is has been incredibly redemptive for me. I can make a difference little by little. I can learn and grow little by little. I can love little by little.

Hound me later if you think I’m being trite, but welcome to my favorite obsession: “manageable chunks of love.”


*PS I couldn’t resist the urge to post a pic of baby, block numbering Aly with my brothers decked out for Halloween.
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One thought on “Helpless to Helpful, One Block at Time

  1. Susan Lewis says:

    Oh, those numbered blocks! How freeing to breathe in God's love and know that we can just step out one manageable block of love at a time!

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