When God Helps a Family Turn Right-Side Up: A Calvary Chapel in Rural Idaho Actively Supports Foster and Adoptive Families—Part 2
Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos by Steve Shambeck
This is Part 2 of a two-part series about Calvary Chapel Emmett, ID’s, whole-church commitment to foster care and adoption. To read part 1 of the story, please click here.
*The name is fictitious to protect the privacy of the person.
As their visit with their foster children’s caseworker neared its end, Pastor Mike Hughes of Calvary Chapel Emmett, ID, and his wife Shannon talked with her about an upcoming court hearing. It would be the last chance for the children’s biological father, Steve, to keep his parental rights. Having built a relationship with Steve and seen his love for his children, the Hugheses were unsure which result they wanted—so, apparently, were the courts. Steve had faithfully followed his case plan, but recently concerns had arisen over his environment. “It’s a difficult situation,” confessed the caseworker before going upstairs to talk with the boys. “I really don’t know which way it will go.”
Pastor Mike Hughes of Calvary Chapel Emmett, ID, and his wife Shannon talk to their sons Xander and Jaren between services. Their family includes 15-year-old Isaiah and two sets of adopted siblings: Joshua and Hannah, 12 and 10; and Xander and Jaren, 7 and 12. They have a 27-month-old foster daughter, *Joy.
When she returned with the boys, 4-year-old Xander announced, “I’m so excited because you guys are going to adopt me!”
Mike looked at the caseworker in alarm. “We haven’t talked about that with him.”
“Well, I haven’t mentioned it to him,” she protested.
“Xander, how did you know about that?” asked Mike.
He responded, “God told me!”
Over the next few weeks, Xander mentioned it a few more times, always insisting it was God who told him. Mike started to ask questions: “When did God tell you this?”
“In my bed.”
“So you were dreaming?” Mike suggested.
“No, He woke me up.”
“Buddy, what is God’s name?” he asked.
Xander looked at him like he might be a little crazy. “It was Jesus, Dad. Jesus is God,” he explained patiently.
“What was He wearing?” asked the Hugheses’ son Joshua.
“A white dress and a blue scarf,” Xander replied matter-of-factly. Mike scrolled through internet images of Jesus. Xander pointed to one with certainty. “That’s what He was wearing, but that’s not the guy,” he announced.
Days later, Steve called. “Mike, I think I’m supposed to let you adopt the boys,” he said.
Mike was blown away. “Are you sure? That’s a big decision.”
“I’m sure. I can’t provide for them, and it would be wrong to take them from you at this point,” Steve assured him. His boys had lived with the Hugheses half their lives. Still, in the weeks before Steve’s official announcement in court, the Hugheses wondered if he would change his mind.
The night before the hearing, Shannon was putting Xander to bed when he informed her, “After tomorrow, you’ll be able to adopt me!”
“How do you know?” Shannon asked.
“Jesus told me,” Xander declared. “Last night in my bed.”
Joy runs to Shannon as Pastor Mike and Xander look on. At CC Emmett, caring for foster children and encouraging adoption is a whole-church ministry. According to Mike, foster care is a mission opportunity that opens tremendous doors for the Gospel, not only to the kids but to their birth parents, foster parents, case workers, and court officials.
Sure enough, Steve followed through. Xander and his brother Jaren’s adoption was completed November 27, 2017—four months exactly from Xander’s first announcement. Mike found himself in tears as the judge read out the termination of Steve’s parental rights. Despite his joy in legally gaining two sons he already loved, he could not help feeling Steve’s pain in letting them go. “That was a noble thing for him to do, putting the boys’ needs above his own,” Mike reflected.
By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 1 John 3:16
Mike talks to his daughter Hannah and her friend Laura, as they show him a puppy wrapped in the blanket. CC Emmett has cared for the many church families involved in foster care by providing meals, clothing, beds, offers of help, and even vehicles. Each November, the church holds an Orphan Sunday event to share the scriptural mandate to care for orphans.
After the adoption, Mike and Shannon considered stopping foster care to focus on their blended family. “When we talked to the kids about it, they said, ‘We can’t do that! This is what we do!’” Mike remembered. “This is our personal mission field.” That mission includes not only the foster children, but the families, caseworkers, and court officials surrounding them. It is often a complicated and difficult mission, and one that requires the Hugheses to radically trust their Heavenly Father, just as they ask their children to trust them. “To go into foster care as a missionary,” Mike stated, “you have to be ready to give everything to the Lord and allow Him to heal your child’s pain, and your own.”
Trained to Trust
When 8-month-old *Joy joined the Hughes family, she was so developmentally delayed that she was unable to roll over. They recognized possible signs of reactive attachment disorder, which occurs when a child’s bond with their primary caregiver never forms or is suddenly severed. Infants’ brains are wired to respond to their parents’ affection, Mike explained, “and when that doesn’t happen—when no one comes when they cry or looks into their eyes—those neurons don’t fire and they lose that development.”
Mike hugs his son Xander, who is showing him the sucker he got from his Sunday school teacher.
Using their training in Trust-Based Relational Intervention (TBRI), Mike and Shannon worked tirelessly to form a firm attachment with Joy and make up for the development she had missed. They mimicked all her noises, gazed in her eyes, did physical exercises, and never let her cry herself to sleep. Nineteen months later, Joy has far surpassed the normal milestones for her age. At her one-year check-up, her pediatrician exclaimed, “This child is thriving in your care! I was very concerned about her early failure to thrive. I hope that I see you at her 18-month appointment.” Then she added, “Actually, I hope to see you at her 18-year appointment.”
“God sets the lonely in families.” Psalm 68:6a, NIV
Mike and Shannon hold each other as they watch their children play. Foster care has taught them to radically trust their Heavenly Father, just as they ask their children, biological and adopted, to trust them.
Mike wishes they had known about TBRI when they adopted their first sibling set, Joshua and Hannah, who struggle with reactive attachment disorder. “No amount of discipline would get through to those kiddos,” Mike reflected. “If only we’d understood the neural science of what they needed—that we needed to engage them, hear them, and teach them a better way to get what they want. Now that we know, we’re making progress.”
A couple of years ago, during a difficult phase with Joshua, “I realized, He’s just doing things so he can get yelled at. It was like he was addicted to yelling,” said Mike. “We committed not to raise our voices in the house.” In response, Joshua’s behavior escalated from rebellious to destructive. He was being sent to his principal’s office daily at school. After many prayers for Joshua, Mike felt the Holy Spirit give him insight.
He sat his son down and said, “Joshua, something’s got to change. It seems like because Mom and Dad aren’t yelling, you’re upping the game.” Joshua started to protest, but Mike continued, “There are parts of your brain that are smarter than you, and they can tell you to do something without you even realizing it.” Mike walked Joshua through his negative behavior: feeling upset about something, acting out until someone yelled, then storming off to his room and sitting on his bed. “Would it be safe to say that when you’re sitting in bed with the covers pulled over your head, you feel safe?” Mike suggested gently. “I can just imagine that when you were very little, you would run to your bed, the beatings would stop, and you would feel safe.”
Recognition dawned in Joshua’s eyes.
“The next time you need to feel safe, why don’t you just run to your bed, pull the covers over your head, and pray?” Mike advised.
“After that day, it was like a switch flipped,” Mike declared. “There was a dramatic change in Joshua’s behavior. Not only at home, but in school as well.”
“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Deuteronomy 33:27a
Shannon happily picks up Joy. Sons Xander and Jaren are in the background.
The Hugheses are leaning on prayer again as the courts debate whether Joy can be returned to her biological mother’s care. While the Hugheses desire for Joy’s mother to become part of her life to the degree it is safe for her, they fear that having her removed from their home would reverse much of the restoration they have seen. That fear is well-substantiated by attachment theory and child development research, but thankfully they know Joy’s future is in the hands of One much greater than their fears. After recently struggling all day with his emotional turmoil, Mike surrendered it to God. The prayer he and Shannon prayed before bed that night has been their sustaining prayer ever since: “I said, ‘Lord, You’ve always been faithful to us. Whatever happens, help us to see Your wisdom in it.’ Peace has carried us from that moment until now.”
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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