by Rev. Dr. Lorri E. Baldwin
As caregivers, we often find ourselves in life-altering situations that we feel are out of our control. But what my journey in caring for my parents has taught me is that everything happens in God’s perfect timing.
God, your God, will restore everything you lost; (God will) have compassion on you;
(God will) come back and pick up the pieces from all the places where you were scattered (Deuteronomy 30:3, MSG )
As I reflect on the recent anniversary of my Daddy’s passing on February 4, 2012, I am reminded of how my feelings and thoughts were so complicated after my Momma followed him to Heaven two years later.
Now, some eleven years later, I would have never imagined where I am today compared to how lost I was then. It has been such a manifestation of God’s grace to walk into the hopes and plans to further my ministry. I am embracing God’s calling to go back to school to re-focus on the needs of women in ministry and the church to become what God had chosen me to be.
I am so grateful to have lived this unimaginable experience so I can share it with others.
As I think about how gracious and loving God has been to me by restoring my life after I had to concentrate on caring for my parents, I am amazed at how seamless this process was. God has fully restored me and increased my territory and vision even further than I had envisioned for myself!
What is so curious to me is I had not even evaluated nor understood the cost at the time. My premise was that my loving, giving parents had poured into my family all that they had to give. There was no question in my mind I would not try my best to reciprocate when they needed me the most. How did I navigate this? I trusted God with the details to help me get what I needed inside myself and all the resources/assistance from God’s Garden to get me to the next steps! If I would take on the challenge through prayer with God’s guidance, I could do it, no matter what. That’s what I believed, and it kept me moving during difficult times.
I was not supposed to be in the country prior to my dad’s prognosis. At the time, I was working in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for the Presbyterian Church PC(USA) World Missions Women’s Department. In what I now know to have been God’s timing, suddenly, we were being evacuated because of a military coup’ in Aug/Sept of 1999. It took us weeks to get out of the country because the local airlines started canceling flights to other neighboring countries. Being in the middle of the country and in diamond mine territory, we could not get a flight into the capital, Kinshasa, where the UN sent planes to evacuate Americans/expatriates.
God was always with me!
Even in this time of peril, God’s perfect timing prevailed. At the time, I had Illinoisian friends in the House and the Senate – Carol Mosley Braun, our first African American woman Senator and Congressman Bobby Rush, a former Black Panther. As airports were shutting down flights from the Congo, they requested on my behalf for South Africa to allow me into their country. “If it had not been for the Lord on my side,” without God’s perfect timing, I may not have been on that flight to Johannesburg, South Africa which allowed me to ultimately enter the U.S. safely. So, God does move in mysterious ways!
A few months after I returned to Chicago, we received the news. After many tests and consultations, the doctors diagnosed my dad with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. When I observed my family shutting down emotionally after the doctors’ diagnosis, I accepted that much of the responsibility for my dad’s care would be on me. I know now that it wasn’t a coincidence that I came home almost 2 years earlier from my 3 ½ yr. Mission assignment. My plan was to save enough money to support myself while I worked on my doctorate once I returned. However, coming home early put a snag in that plan. Due to the change in plans, my next steps at the time were unknown. I found myself in a place where I was reacting instead of planning and had to come to grips with the fact that life was about to change drastically.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).
It was always my prayer that God would lead me through this valley and challenge. From my experiences of being in the unknown while serving as a foreign missionary in Africa, far away from home, I knew I could rely on God’s care here at home. I was confident that God would provide me with all the resources and support to fulfill my calling.
When God charges us with a task, God also gives us the skills and strength necessary to do what God asked us to do, no matter what challenges we face.
With so much going on with my dad’s care, I realized I was going to have to take a leave of absence from my Associate Pastoral ministry assignment. I told my pastor that God called me to minister at home, and I would have to lessen my assignments at the church. God’s divine presence was with me when my Senior Pastor and I spoke because I did not immediately come to this conclusion. I don’t think I even knew what I was saying as I heard the words come out of my mouth. But God knew that this is the time that I needed to stop working full-time and focus on the care of my parents. It was God’s directing of the timing, in retrospect, that now feels like it was all but a dream.
God doesn’t simply watch over us; God supports us, encourages us, and strengthens us for the Journey.
It’s actually hard to believe some 13 -15 years later, I have finally started seeing my new life in perfect view. In 2015, I applied for the Doctor of Ministry program at Chicago Theological Seminary and joined by way of Rev. Dr. Linda Thomas’ Womanist God-Talk Bible Study, a new church family at Trinity United Church of Christ, Chicago.
All I can say is: ‘Thank God for all you’ve done for me!’ It’s been a privilege taking care of both my parents and eulogizing them on to glory. God enabled me to create my greatest memories and spend precious moments with them, ministering to them on Sunday mornings. I cherished singing hymns with my Mama and ‘praise sessions’ with Dad and the tambourines. We had communion and worship services with them at home. I experienced God’s grace when I washed, dressed, and fed them on Saturdays/Sundays. We truly changed roles with humility and respect.
Reflecting on my Journey
My dad’s birthday recently passed on 1/24/2023, and he would have been 96 yrs old. Joy still fills my heart that I was able to send him off in style. I honored him during Black History month and his legacy of African people’s liberation, wearing my mud cloth robe as I gave his eulogy as his Afro-centric eldest daughter.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen ( Ephesians 3:20-21, NIV).
I chose to be obedient to the call on my life at that time. God restored me, giving me the gift of transformation to start all over again, more abundantly!
Continue to follow our caregiving blog series at https://www.drjeanneporterking.com/caregivers-corner/