Moms on a Mission: Dr. Karen Dowling

Profiles of moms who are making a difference

I love having the chance to introduce you to real moms who are following their God-given passions, making a difference in the world and being real about their journeys.

This month’s mom is someone I’ve known for years from church. She’s the kind of woman who has a beautiful smile and a personality that makes everyone feel welcome and included. You can see the love of God shine through her.

Dr. Karen Dowling has spent years working in diversity at the university level and is currently the executive director for multicultural learning and engagement at a major Christian university.

But, that’s not all. She’s also a wife of 22 years and a mom to two boys — one in college and one a senior in high school.

Families with Grace: What’s your God-given mission or passion?

Karen Dowling: My God-given mission is to help others (and myself) build relationships, engage with and respect cultures. I’m a teacher at heart, so continuous teaching and learning plays right into that. My role is perfect for me because I’m still working in an academic setting, and I’m able to teach by providing development.

I work with faculty, students, staff and our curriculum to make sure that it’s inclusive. I work with all the issues relating to diversity and inclusion at our university. Working with adults who are taking online classes means that I’m working nationally and globally.

It all goes together with who I am. I have a multicultural background personally, and I love to build relationships with and interact with people.

My role is founded on Biblical principals. I’m blessed that I get to have Christ in my work.

FWG: How do you work to live out that mission right now?

KD: When all the ongoing racial tension increased, I knew I had to learn more. I am a lifelong learner. I never want to be finished learning. So, I started joining in on book studies and webinars. I took some mini classes to educate myself so that I’m not coming from an all-knowledgeable perspective.

Then at work, I created a series at work called “Growing Together: Conversations About Racism and Bias.” My goal was to help our university continue to live out our caring purpose and communicate with one another. Learning each other’s stories and building relationships is important. I have a desire to help people have a sense of belonging. Not everybody has a sense of belonging.

FWG: What are some of your biggest challenges in living our your mission?

KD: I can get stifled when I want to do things well, so I just don’t start them. If I don’t feel like I can dedicate enough time to a project — both at work and at home — then I end up not starting it. I have so many things I want to do. But when I get overwhelmed and unsure whether I can put in the amount of time and detail I want, I get stifled.

I’m a visionary person who wants to be creative. Sometimes details are stumbling blocks for me.

FWG: What have been some of your biggest blessings in living out your mission?

KD: Recently, I’ve discovered more about myself. I lost my dad when I was 21. He was from India and had dark skin. My mom is Caucasian. I have more traits from my dad while my mom and brother are blonde and blue-eyed.

Thanks in part to some of my recent work experiences, my brother and I recently had a beautiful conversation about how our experiences have differed. The differences in our skin color, our gender and our ages (he’s six years younger) have shaped our shared experiences differently.

I want to engage in those conversations. It’s been a blessing and very enlightening for me. With racial tensions and living out a mission of being set apart and living for Christ, it’s important to think about these things.

I have had some great conversations with my sons while teaching them about my dad and how he was oppressed. They haven’t experienced those things firsthand. I think about how their awareness might be different if they had known this grandpa with an accent and dark skin.

I’m blending work topics at home and vice versa — and all of it with a Christian perspective.

FWG: How do you balance motherhood responsibilities with your work/mission?

KD: I have a great partner. My husband is really great in that we help each other around the house. We help each other with life decisions. We’re great partners when it comes to our boys and their activities as well as the discipline and decisions we need to make for them.

We’ve been super blessed with how our sons have turned out so far. They make great decisions and do what they’re asked to do. I don’t always feel like I’m doing it well, but I try.

I have enjoyed this time of quarantine in having both of my sons home. We didn’t get sick of and frustrated with each other. It has been a joy to be together. Somehow we’ve been able to be in sync together.

FWG: What’s the best advice you have for other moms who are following their passions?

KD: I like to keep my family together as a cohesive group. We make some decisions together as a unified effort. The four of us try to play and have positive fun time as well. We don’t always get to eat dinner at the table and pray and such, but we try.

I also make having date nights and fun with my husband a priority. And we maintain that our relationship with our sons is first and foremost as their parents.

I have a new project I’ve started working on recently and have really made that a family decision. My sons and husband have given me input. We have moments where we’re a team. We’re one unit and not divided as the parents and the kids.

Read more from the series

Moms ona Mission: Erin Mayes

Moms on a Mission: Mari Hernandez-Tuten

Moms on a Mission: Kathleen Brooker

Moms on a Mission: Sarah R. Moore

Moms on a Mission: Stacey Pardoe

Moms on a Mission: Kristin Billerbeck

Moms on a Mission: Crystal (aka InnieMom)

Moms on a Mission: Pastor Stefanie Hendrickson

Moms on a Mission: Amy Cutler

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