Allies Build Boundaries, Not Walls

It’s September 2022 and after what felt like the longest, most unwanted break from writing about allyship, I am coming in hot, live from my new office on the second floor of our new home in Ohio!

You read that right. We haven’t been super public about it, but this year Kelvin and I sold our house, packed the kids up, and hit the road… 2,000 miles of it, until we reached our new home in the small college town where we met and yes, fell in love.

Let’s just take a quick moment to say, “Awww” at these two kids who have no idea how good their lives are going to be together.

How we got to this point is a longer story, but the one sentence summary is as follows: We followed our boundaries and they led us to pursue peace-making somewhere other than Idaho.

In this post, you’ll learn about how boundaries help us become peace-making allies.

Before we dive in, I just want to welcome anyone new here. I’m Jamie K Corbin,  and I’ve been navigating needing an ally and becoming an ally my entire life. 

If you have questions about allyship basics, I have a free allyship journey starter kit available for you to download —it’s packed full of beautiful goodies to help you get started, so don’t miss it!

 

There isn’t an easy way to say this next part, but since I am an ally committed to engaging in conversations even if they are difficult, I will just speak clearly.

After George Floyd was murdered by police officers in 2020, major boundaries were crossed, leading Kelvin and I to realize that our family couldn’t remain in the church we had called home since 2009. 

We fasted and we prayed and we cried, repeatedly, for a couple of weeks, and it became increasingly obvious that, not only did we need to leave our church, but Boise was not a viable place for us to pursue our family’s peace-making mission while we simultaneously wandered the spiritual wilderness we were unintendedly exiled into.  

We were desperate for peace.

God was good to us in the form of allies who showed up in our corner and sustained us through the longer-than-a-year process it took to sell the house and get out. He literally built an entire church that served as a place of refuge and jumping off point for our healing before we left, and they sent us off well—commissioning us for whatever it is God has planned for us here.

We have spent the summer unpacking our boxes and our grief, taking inventory of what we wrongly thought could be moved unbroken, coming to terms with what simply won’t fit here, and trying our best to trust God to guide our steps at his own pace.

We also logged a lot of hours at the pool where the girls participated in the local swim team. It was a huge blessing for all of us to have the time and space to find joy, make new friends, and reap the benefits of regular exercise or poolside reflection time.

Some of the people we love most are in the Treasure Valley and it’s hard to reconcile the loss of geographic proximity to them with the joy we are finding in our new home. 

It’s been heartbreakingly hard for the youngest members of our family who have never known anything besides Boise and their people who live there. And, of course, it’s been weird doing all of this in parallel with navigating our way to the new COVID informed normal, whatever that means.

We held our boundaries and stayed on a peace-making mission, imperfectly of course, and found ourselves having to let go and move on in ways we would have never expected. Praise God that he is a faithful author of redemption stories with wonderful new beginnings.

We are currently doing our best to accept the changes that have happened in our lives, and are fighting hard in counseling, prayer, and community to refuse to be reduced by the hurtful words and actions we experienced the last few years.

One of the changes for me, and the best way for me to refuse to be reduced, is my writing about allyship. I have been blessed with serious clarity and a renewed spirit to fight for what I know is right. 

The girls are back in school, giving me the opportunity to sit at my desk uninterrupted, and I am here for it. So many have encouraged me for years and it’s an honor to show up in this space knowing that my words have value to more than just me.

So, without further adieu, let’s jump in shall we?

In order for this blog post to do its job, we first have to address a couple of key terms. 

First, boundaries. I first learned about boundaries when I was 26 years old and working my way through a twelve step recovery program. I kid you not. I learned that people protect, as they should, their physical, emotional, and spiritual selves through one of two ways. 

Walls, which created distance and to some extent isolation, or boundaries, which allow for safe connection. 

I was taught to think of my boundaries as a really strong, really transparent glass mason jar delineating what was okay and what wasn’t, covering my personal safety, peace, and joy while engaging with the world around me. 

And, I learned my go-to, default behaviors of rage, arrogance, isolation, addiction, and numbing were walls that I thought were protecting me, but were actually keeping me from authentic, meaningful connection with myself and others. 

The good news about boundaries: they are as simple as creating a list of yes’s and no-go’s to clearly outline what’s okay and what’s not okay to maintain our sense of safety, joy, and peace.

And, there are several other benefits to creating boundaries in your life.

The challenging news about boundaries: they take consistent practice and, to quote a good friend who knows, “When you start going to counseling and learning about how to use boundaries in your life, people around you get pissy.” 

Yep. Boundaries are going to ruffle some feathers, and that’s tough. 

But it’s not only worth it, it’s necessary if you’re going to be a long-term, effective ally.

Here’s why: Allies are peace-makers, not peacekeepers. 

We don’t go looking for a fight for the sake of fighting, but if we see injustice we sure are going to meet it head on in order to right it, even if that means rocking the proverbial boat. 

I’ll take a moment to remind you all that Jesus slept right on through a rocking boat because he knew that the storm was bound to follow his will—there is absolutely no reason that allies should feel obligated to maintain the unjust status-quo in the name of a false peace that only benefits a select group of God’s beloved.

Jesus came for all of us, and those of us who consider ourselves his disciples are bound to pursue liberation and justice because his life and death modeled how much he valued them. 

As peace-makers we go out into the world, armed with a full acknowledgement of our own belovedness and that of others, filled to the point of overflowing with grace and mercy, confident that God has always been in the chain breaking business, and prepared to reflect the creative spirit of the Holy Trinity as we go about the work of imagining a better place and showing up to do our part to make it so.

We do not sit in the back office of churches hemming and hawing about what social issues to speak about from the front of the stage because we don’t want to “get political.” That’s weak peacekeeping at best and actively harmful theology for a community commissioned to serve the world with the love and justice of Christ the King.

Peace-making can be exhausting, ally.

Especially if we’re trying to do it in a community that would rather put their efforts toward making sure those in the congregation, and dare I say it, leadership teams and staffs, are kept comfortable rather than forced to reckon with the sins of racism (and other power-hoarding, fear-based forms of discrimination) passed through the pews of the American Christian church one generation after another.

In order to keep from burning out, we have to keep that exhaustion at a distance by establishing and holding boundaries. 

In order to keep the inevitable discouragement from dragging us down and away from our allyship journeys, we have to establish and hold boundaries. 

In order to find the grace we need for ourselves and others, when things are said and done that shouldn’t have been, we have to establish and hold boundaries.

I love this quote by Brené Brown, because it speaks to the relationship between boundaries and the ally’s compassionate heart:

“Compassionate people ask for what they need. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

If you need some help working on boundaries, there are several books written on the topic such as Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life and Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself, which is on my personal To Be Read list. There is also this article about creating healthy boundaries from Psychology Today.

My top two tips for establishing and holding boundaries are:

1) Make sure you are only using boundaries where you really do need them in order to protect your safety, peace, and joy.

2) Do your best to keep them from becoming self-serving ultimatums that protect preferences and wants rather than needs, because those are really just walls cleverly disguised as boundaries.

One last thing for you, ally. Not only can you maintain your peace-making allyship journey when you employ healthy boundaries—a recent article on CNBC highlights the good news that you can actually strengthen your relationships with boundaries. 

Keep that in mind as you work through the challenging process of establishing boundaries and helping others learn how to respect them. We need to nurture strong, healthy relationships with our people, because the work of allyship is to inspire change around us through authentic connection. 

If you liked this post, please let me know in the comments below and share it with a fellow ally who you know could use a friendly reminder about the importance of boundaries.

Now you know how boundaries can help you become a peace-making ally, but what if your boundaries lead you to saying, “Hard pass.” to staying in an unhealthy situation, and you find yourself having to let go of the familiar and leave for somewhere new?

I’ve got a blog post for you to read about one of the first things you’ll need to do in this new place as an ally in order to start rebuilding your community.

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Hi, I'm Jamie!

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If you are looking for honesty, insight, and encouragement as you learn how to be an ally, you are in the right place!  I am passionate about using stories to build empathy and supporting people as they learn to become better allies.

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