Laurel Willingham-McLain

I had the privilege of being raised by parents who modeled Jesus’ love for me in consistent and life-giving ways. I felt love and I had a strong knowledge of a Savior who died and rose for me. I was raised in a community of believers.

This particular church community focused quite a lot on feelings and experience, so I repeatedly sought the “experience” of being saved. I was disappointed to not have deep joyous feelings. But my spiritual mentors over the years coached me to have faith in God’s word and his promise of salvation.

My faith grew to have a focus on trusting in God’s word as assurance. To believe his promises are true.

In my young adulthood, God led me in so many ways: my studies, travel to Europe for French language immersion, marriage to Gary, financial provision, and several welcoming and equipping churches. Together, my husband and I followed God’s lead to relocate (for 25 years, it turns out) to an urban area next door to a church that serves people in an under-resourced neighborhood.

We experienced the faithfulness of the God who called us in many, many ways. In addition to joyous times, we faced grief and pain. Our older son, Alan, rejected our parenting in his adolescence and engaged in very dangerous actions. Our younger son, Brian, was diagnosed with autism and cognitive disabilities, which was an enormous blow to me, and a life changer. I have had to relinquish my grip on both of our sons.

God has worked in both of our sons’ lives to bring about growth in me.

He has answered our prayers for Alan in unimaginable ways. Alan has followed God’s call to live with his family and to work among young people in west Baltimore who have not had the privileges he grew up with. God has redeemed Alan’s teenage experiences and uses them to build His Kingdom.

Even as we grieve daily about Brian’s limitations, God has also redeemed so much in our parenting of him. Brian is a blessing to people he meets – and he has had dozens of caregivers over his 25 years. Many of these have been in our home. A friend said, “I feel God’s presence most keenly when I teach Brian Sunday School lessons one-on-one.” Brian witnesses through his gospel singing and joy.

I have grown to trust in God. I keep scripture in my mind such as, “When I am afraid, I will trust in you” (Psalm 56:3). And, “God’s strong right arm holds me fast” (Psalm 63:8).

Through the experiences of parenting, God is faithfully developing in me a sense of steadiness and vision of the big picture of His Kingdom. His timeline. And he has helped me to be more patient and gracious with others. I now approach my work with university faculty with a spirit of affirmation and encouragement. This attitude comes out of the consistency of God’s love for me.

My repeated sense of faith is grounded in my primary identity: “I am God’s beloved daughter.” Secondly, I am part of an active community of loving, spiritual companions.  Out of this identity, I can bring God’s love to others.

More Faith Stories

Andy Reed

Andy Reed

The next thing I said was, “What do you want from me, Lord?” And he said, “I need you to straighten out this mess with your sisters.” When my father was sick with Alzheimer’s it tore our whole family apart. I wasn’t speaking to any of my sisters. I didn’t care if I ever saw them again.

Carla Cebula

Carla Cebula

When my older son was in his late teens, he began to drink alcohol and it soon turned our world upside down. It was a long, harrowing ten years of severe alcohol abuse, car accidents, constant worry and sleepless nights. He nearly died twice.