Baby Boomer Woman: Rev. Karen Baldwin

by Anne Holmes on September 25, 2012

A huge Baby Boomer welcome to Karen Baldwin, one of NABBW’s newest members. Karen is a woman whose life experiences are as many and varied as an African tapestry, as you’ll soon see…

To begin with, in mid-life, Karen turned her back on a successful career in civil engineering to focus on her lifelong desire to serve the needs of women and children.

After making that life-altering decision, she graduated from the Chaplaincy Institute for Arts and Interfaith Ministry in Berkeley, California and earned a certificate in Spiritual Psychology through the West Coast Kabbalah School.

She then worked as a chaplain with Kaiser Permanente hospital, specializing in neo-natal intensive care, prior to leaving California to serve in Africa as an English teacher — a decision made as the result of a dream.

Today, she lives in Taos, New Mexico, where she presents workshops nationally on the power of dreams as a compass for life and maintains a spiritual direction practice.

You can learn more about how she helps people learn to solve real life issues through their dreams on her website, RevKarenBaldwin.com, where you can also sign up for her monthly newsletter.

Karen still holds a deep interest in Africa. In fact, she recently became the American Ambassador to the Rural Women’s Movement of South Africa.

“When RWM asked for my help, I was honored. Hopefully, I can make a difference by bringing more attention to the RMW and therefore more support,” Baldwin states.

My role is to create awareness of their cause here in the US, to be their US media liaison, to assist with fund raising efforts, and to compile and edit an anthology of stories from the rural women.

Doubtless her prior African experiences — which she wrote about in her first book,“Ruby’s  World – My Journey with the Zulu” — helped qualify her for this new position.

Karen made the life-altering decision to work in Africa after surviving a heart attack and breast cancer. Searching for a new life purpose, her dreams led her to become the first white teacher in a rural Zulu elementary school.

“I didn’t choose Africa,” says Baldwin. “Africa chose me, through my dreams. It was an experience that changed my life. I hope everyone who reads Ruby’s World comes away from it as I did, with deeper self-awareness and an inquisitive heart.”

(Editor’s note: Doubtless that is why Karen has chosen to donate a portion of the proceeds from that book to go toward feeding, clothing and educating children in rural KwaZulu-Natal.  You can learn more at the Simunye Project. ) 

As busy as Karen is these days, with her second book, Unlocking the Dream,  just about to be published, we were able to capture a few minutes with her recently to ask her our favorite questions. Here’s what she told us:

Using one paragraph, tell us a bit about yourself?

 My friends frequently tell me they can’t keep up with the pace of my changing life. At the age of 57, I am now on my 3rd career – and even that is expanding monthly.

After surviving the two major killers of women – a heart attack ten years ago, followed closely by breast cancer – I decided there must be a bigger purpose to my life than I had previously realized.

Ever since, my goal is to keep saying “YES” to all that life offers … and if offers a LOT.

Tell us about your family; married, divorced, children, grands, boomerangs or parents living with you, etc.

I am the oldest of seven children, raised in Pittsburgh and the San Francisco area.  I married a year after high school, lived as an Air Force wife for many years, and my son was born in 1983.

Through divorce, I became a single mom when my son was 3, and totally enjoyed motherhood.  He married a few years ago. He and his wife are both school teachers (math and science) and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

I now have a beautiful grandson whom I adore – being with him is like looking at my son all over again!

My family of origin is not close, which has always been a painful experience for me. My mother is currently in the process of dying and us kids are struggling as we navigate this difficult transition. 

What is your favorite childhood memory that is reminiscent of growing up in the 50s, 60s or 70s?

Standing on the street corner in Berkeley, flowers in my hair, playing my guitar. The music defined our generation!

I was a musician, playing saxophone in a jazz band and guitar in a folk band – legitimate gigs.  The music of our day was so simple and powerful.  I still love it.

What qualities do you have that speak of our generation of women?

 Tenacity and creativity.  I have been through it all:

  • Making my way in a man’s work world
  • Being a single mom
  • Struggling to make changes in my life that my mother fought against
  • Heart attack, breast cancer, and even rape as a teenager

It all required strength to keep going, and a flexible attitude.

What I believe is most important about me, is my voice, my willingness to share my experience openly and honestly.  Hopefully, this inspires and encourages others.

What inspires you?

Being involved with women who are working hard to make changes in their lives.  Knowing that there is always a new generation coming – one that will benefit from the changes that we make today.

What brings you the most pleasure in midlife?

My work. I tried to retire after 27 years in the engineering field.  I hated retirement.

I also love spending time with my son and his family.  That is my treat in the midst of working at causes that can sometimes feel impossible.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?

Hmmm.  I knit, do needlepoint, read, kayak, scuba diving.  Nothing too unusual.  I also like spending time with my dog.

Do you have a favorite book or movie? If so, tell us why it’s your favorite.

 My favorite book is “The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver.  I’ve read it so many times I’ve lost count.  She does such a beautiful job of telling one story through four different lenses.  It reminds me that there are always a variety of legitimate perspectives from which to view any single experience.

My favorite movie is “Titanic.”  The scene that always gets me is when the ship is sinking, and the camera moves through the ship, showing what people cling to in the moment that they realize their life will end.  Some value family, others music, still others, their drink.  I like being reminded that we each have core values that are all crucial to our sense of self.

Do you travel and if so, who are your favorite travel partners and where do you like to go?

I like to travel … always have.  My motto as an adult has been “give me an hour and I can be packed to go anywhere!”  I think being overseas is an opportunity to expand oneself that cannot be equaled.

I once lived in England for 2 years, have seen all of the US except New England, been to Alaska several times. Also Central America, and of course, South Africa.  There are so many more places I would go in a heartbeat.

Do you practice preventive medicine? Please elaborate

I try!  I eat well, walk almost an hour most days, try to sleep regular hours, have an annual mammogram and physical, and have never smoked.  I’m a big fan of acupuncture and massage.

What do you stress about?

Money.  Being effective in my work.  Making a difference in the world.  Being a good mother and grandmother.

Is it important for you to retain your youthful looks, and if so, to what degree are you willing to go?

Tough question.  I modeled as a young woman, so I definitely have some internalized issues of value being related to appearance.

Oddly enough, losing one breast to cancer brought me a lot of peace about my body.  I’ve begun to feel that the wisdom that comes along with being an “aging” woman outweighs the simple beauty of youth.

My efforts to preserve youth go only as far as my daily routine – sunscreen, very little makeup, a good cleansing product, and clothes that hide a multitude of sins.  No Botox.  No plastic surgery.  Psychotherapy is better than invasive procedures!

Have you re-invented yourself, and if so, how?

So many times!  My latest, biggest reinvention was a direct result of my breast cancer.  You can read all about it in “Unlocking the Dream” … due October 2012.

Do you plan to retire?

When I’m about 80!!!

Are you doing anything to GO Green?

I recycle, use biodegradable products (sometimes) and products made from recycled material, have recently downsized my life to a much more energy efficient living space, drive a small, fuel efficient car, use as few disposable products as possible … nothing extraordinary but I’d like to believe that every little bit helps.

Can you pinpoint major turning points in your life that led to your life’s work/play at midlife?

Heart attack and breast cancer … both definitely sent me in new directions.

My heart attack made me realize that it was time to leave the engineering world and move into ministry – something that had been tugging at me all my life.

Breast cancer upped the ante, propelling me onto the international stage in ways that I never would have imagined possible.  I finally feel as though I’ve hit my stride in life.

Do you still have unfulfilled dreams, and are you doing anything to accomplish them?

Not all of my dreams have been fulfilled yet … but I’m working on them!

I have a couple more books to write, am looking forward to being involved with the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, would love to do more travel, and am working on building my dream seminar schedule.

Sharing this vital aspect of practical wisdom that comes through dreams just makes me happy!

How do you make a difference in the lives of others, your community, your world?

I hope by sharing my life experience, lessons learned, wisdom gained … in an open and honest way.

I have so many opportunities to speak to churches, women’s groups, book clubs, etc … each with a slightly different focus.

But the message is usually some variation of:  You are whole and good. You can do anything you want to do. You can make a difference in the world.  Think bigger.  Anything you consider to be a limitation is merely an invitation to explore just how powerful you really are!

Who has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

I’ve been fortunate to have a couple wonderful mentors in my life.

  • One was Sister John Bosco at St. Winifred’s Catholic School in Pittsburgh, PA.  She taught me the beauty of kindness.
  • The other was Reverend S. Culliver Brookman who so patiently shared her wisdom teachings with me over many years.  To this day, her words echo in my mind on a nearly daily basis.

I also have great friends, for whom I am deeply grateful.  They remind me that it’s okay to have flaws and shortcomings, and still be loved.

If you were to have a personal mission statement, what would it be? Feel free to be as serious or fun as you choose

To listen to the still small voice and never say, “No,” but instead ask, “How?”


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