In January of this year, I kicked of my blog with an announcement that I would do a blog series on establishing boundaries in our lives. I wrote two posts. One dealt with establishing boundaries as self-care. My godmother Kathi was super excited about the series as she always was about most things I did. She looked forward to how I was going to approach the series especially about establishing boundaries when your self-care really appears to be selfish. We had been in conversation about an issue she was dealing with in which she definitely needed to establish some boundaries. The conversations were odd to me. She was the one to always listen and give advice. But, this was unusual because it was as if she was looking to me to give her guidance. I never finished the series. Part of the reason is life happens. The other part was I just never quite figured out how I would address establishing boundaries especially with people we love. I wish I had. She died on April 4 at the age of 61.
Today is her 62nd birthday. On this day I reflect on many things that have happened over the last few months. Kathi (or rather the Rev. Dr. Kathryn G. Brown) was the General Secretary of Christian Education in the AME Zion Church. She had no children, but four godchildren. Through her various positions in Christian Education during more than 30 years in the ministry and working on the campus of Howard University for a number of years, she had adopted many spiritual children. Three months later, we are still trying to wrap our minds around her unexpected death. So many of us looked to her for so much—encouragement, sound advice that was both biblically sound mixed with common sense and a little bit of Harlem, which is where she was born and raised. You could find no greater cheerleader. Likewise, she would also hold you accountable when you were operating in foolishness.
For those who saw and talked to her on a regular basis, we’ve asked, “Did we miss something?” “Was she sick and didn’t know it or sick and didn’t tell it?” Whatever the answer, we will never know. But, what I know for sure is whatever ailments were going on in her body, the stress of the life situation in which she needed to establish boundaries not only sucked the life out of her, but also provided a source to feed those ailments. Psalm 31:15 tells us, “My time is in your hands…” I know when it is your time to go, it is your time to go. But, the stressors we allow in our lives certainly can hasten the process. Unaddressed stress can kill you.
I was traveling by plane about a month after Kathi’s death. The familiar announcement the flight attendants make struck me in a different way, “In the event of an emergency, make sure you put your mask on first before you try to assist someone else.”
Speak Lifers, remember this: Boundaries are a form of self-love. This doesn’t give us the right to leave people hanging, but we are required to save ourselves so that we CAN help others. It does mean that we love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we don’t love ourselves enough to preserve our own spiritual, emotional and physical well-being—we have very little love to offer someone else.
When you feel the need to be all things to all people, put YOUR mask on first.
When you feel the life is being drained from you, put YOUR mask on first.
When you feel taken for granted or advantage for the things you do, put YOUR mask on first.
I understand that my blog post could not stop the will of God. But, if I just had one opportunity to press upon her one more time I would say, “Kathi, put your oxygen mask on first, and that is not selfish.”