Mother and Son Reunited by Ministry

Stacie Watts-Shaffer didn’t have a healthy family life growing up and her choices reflected that dysfunction. As her mom and dad divorced when she was just six months old, she was bounced around from family member to family member during her childhood.

Struggling with abandonment issues, Stacie started drinking and got into trouble as a freshman in high school. At age 14 she was placed into foster care, where she was moved to five different homes within a year. By age 15 she was doing drugs and living on the streets, and when she was 17, she was emancipated (made an “adult,” responsible for caring for herself) by the courts.

“By the time I was 20, I had been in two different relationships and now had two daughters by two different men,” Watts-Shaffer says. “And then, I was sentenced to jail.”

A family friend stayed with Stacie’s daughters while she was in jail. During that time, however, Stacie became convicted about her lifestyle and she was determined to live for God once she was released, only it wasn’t that easy.

Upon her release from jail, she met a guy she knew who wanted to give her drugs. Four months later, she learned she was pregnant with her son, Michael, due to that encounter. But despite the circumstances, she says that she never once considered abortion.

“My children were the best thing that ever happened to me,” she says. “I felt that each one was a gift from the Lord, but the problem was with me. I wanted to be a good mom and love my kids, but I was struggling with immaturity, irresponsibility, and so much rejection and abandonment in my life. I grew up thinking that something was terribly wrong with me. Why would my mom not want me in her life? Why did my stepmom hate me?

Stacie loved Jesus, but she was still struggling with her drug addiction, admitting it was now almost worse than before going to jail.

“I was at an all-time low in my life and things were getting worse,” Stacie says. “I couldn’t trust my friends, someone robbed my house and literally took everything in it, a friend committed suicide — all kinds of crazy stuff happening!”

Stacie then met a former drug dealer who was carrying a Bible. She started telling Stacie about Teen Challenge. Fearful that if she continued on her path she would lose her children — who she loved deeply — and end up in prison, she made what she calls “a God choice.”

“I voluntarily committed myself to Teen Challenge [now called Adult & Teen Challenge (ATC), a U.S. Missions ministry] in Bakersfield, California, when Michael was five months old,” Stacie says. “While I was in there, my daughters lived with family and friends. Michael ended up with a couple in their 40s who wanted kids, but couldn’t have them — as time passed, the couple began indicating that they wanted to adopt Michael.”

Stacie says it was a very difficult time. She viewed her life as a “complete mess” and feared that if she left the ATC before going on to the ATC Ministry Institute for additional training (meaning even more time away from her children), she’d slip back into her old lifestyle. Then she looked at the well-established Christian family who had their own business, a beautiful home, and wanted to adopt Michael. It didn’t seem to be much of a comparison.

“I was so ashamed of myself,” Stacie says. “The week I signed the adoption papers I was fired from my first job at a convalescent home as a caregiver for not going fast enough to get the clients dressed. I felt like such a failure and decided I was not meant to be Michael’s mom and he would be so loved with this perfect family . . . I wish someone had been there to tell me that, in time, God will heal and remove the shame.”

However, while in the ATC Ministry Institute, Stacie’s passion for the Lord grew, she thrived, and she came to see that the Lord did have a call on her life.

MICHAEL’S JOURNEY

Michael was five months old when Stacie entered ATC. Five months later, the family from the church she had been attending could no longer keep him and he was moved to a second home. When Stacie went to visit them, she noticed how Michael called them “Mommy” and “Daddy.” It wasn’t long before this family began asking about adopting him.

As Stacie advanced through the Teen Challenge phases, graduated, and then attended the Teen Challenge Ministry Institute (TCMI) in South Gate, she felt a growing pressure to allow Michael to be adopted. She prayed and fasted, but admits she was fearful that she would not be a good mother — or at least not one who could measure up to what Michael now had. After graduating from TCMI, her fear, uncertainly, and inevitable comparisons led to her giving up Michael for adoption.

However, for Michael (last name now Bowles), he lived his life in what some might call “blissful ignorance.” For nearly a decade he had no idea that he was adopted. Sadly, someone apparently shared a confidence with their child — children have no filter, so it wasn’t a loving revelation.

“I was 9 years old and playing tetherball with a girl on the playground at school,” Michael recalls. “I ended up beating her, which made her really angry, so she said, ‘Oh yeah, well your parents aren’t your real parents!’ It was a long walk home from school that day. Then I found out what she had said was true.”

At first, the news didn’t seem too overwhelming, but a seed had been planted. In time, the seed grew into doubts and Michael began to ask himself the inevitable “why” questions while dealing with feelings of abandonment and “not being good enough.”

“It really began to hit me when I was 14 or so,” Michael says. “I started disrespecting authority, getting into trouble, fighting, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, and being promiscuous.”

Yet Michael had grown up in church and was, even as he was involved with so many negative things, still plugged into his church as it was literally located right behind his house. When the church doors were open, he was there — attending church services, youth group, and summer camps and even volunteering to help with VBS.

But by his senior year in high school, his addictions to cocaine and meth were to the point where he was no longer welcomed in his home. He hung out with his skateboarding friends getting high, and basically bounced from one friend’s couch to another.

One afternoon, while high on meth, Michael and his friends wanted to video their drug-induced skateboarding tricks. Problem was, they didn’t have any video equipment. Michael knew of a place that a lot of video equipment — his church!

“We broke in and stole a bunch of video equipment,” Michael admits. “I wasn’t living at home, but stopped by to get some clothes and while I was there, I dropped one of the cameras off. Later that night, my parents went to a Bible study and the pastor told the congregation of the break-in and how a bunch of video equipment was stolen. They told the pastor that I had brought home a video camera that afternoon; he was able to identify it.”

Michael was arrested for second degree burglary and possession of stolen property. His parents paid his bail, but a few days later he was pulled over and arrested for possession of marijuana with intent to sell. He spent his high school graduation in jail.

In 2009, still in jail, Michael’s life seemed a dead end. But then, instead of prison time, the court ordered him to attend Teen Challenge in southern California.

GETTING BACK UP

A high percentage of those who have experienced victory over drug addiction — or any type of addiction — have achieved that victory through overcoming relapses. Although there are many accounts of people being delivered from an addiction instantaneously by divine intervention, there are also many accounts of those who overcome addiction by not allowing the loss of a battle (or multiple battles) determine who wins the war.

Stacie and Michael both developed a closer relationship with Christ while in Teen Challenge programs — Stacie experiencing her first real discipleship and Michael taking to heart what he already had heard countless times.

But for both of them, their paths to overcoming addiction were marked by times of progress and times of regression.

For Stacie, she committed to the Lord while in jail, but then struggled for a time after her release. However, her two-and-a-half-year commitment to the Teen Challenge discipleship process set her on the road to redemption.

“God helped me build a very strong foundation in Him there,” Stacie says, “and I’ve been sober ever since.”

Michael’s road had a few more bumps. Not long before he and his friends stole the video equipment, Stacie, for the first time Michael’s memory, made contact with him (2007). Although the adoption of Michael was supposed to be an open adoption (Stacie allowed to interact with Michael), after his infancy, that didn’t happen until he was 18. Although this was an extremely difficult and awkward conversation, as Michael was still filled with anger and bitterness toward Stacie, it was an important connection.

After his time in Teen Challenge in 2009, he left the program with respect for Christ — believing “Jesus was really cool” — but he wasn’t willing to give up partying and drinking. That “two-steps-back” decision ultimately led Michael to becoming addicted to oxycontin, heroin, methadone, and other drugs.

Following her graduation in 1990, Stacie entered the Teen Challenge Ministry Institute in South Gate, California, and looking back, she says she can see how her life changed drastically through Adult & Teen Challenge and the ATC Ministry Institute.

As God can create good out of people’s forgiven sins and difficult experiences, when Michael’s adoptive mom called Stacie in 2011 asking if she could help him as his addictions were destroying his life, Stacie was able to help. Due to her connections with ATC (she was now working for the ATC in Graham, Washington), she was able to get Michael into an ATC in Portland, Oregon.

It was another step forward for Michael.

“I had an encounter with Jesus my third day there — tears, just crying,” Michael recounts. “God had been so good and faithful — I have so many stories of Him preserving my life. I rededicated my life to him while there.”

Stacie was also able to maintain some communication with Michael, taking small steps in the process of healing their relationship. Following his time at the Portland ATC, he moved to Washington and lived with Stacie and her husband, James.

“That was kind of strange,” Stacie admits. “Michael was dealing with a lot of emotional struggles at the time as well as walking through forgiveness with me.” Their time together only made it a few weeks, but it was another step forward.

After leaving Stacie’s home, Michael continued to work in Washington. “I had a relapse in using weed and alcohol,” he says. “That led me to go back to the Teen Challenge in San Diego. I stayed there for six months then went immediately into the Teen Challenge Ministry Institute in South Gate (the same Ministry Institute Stacie had attended).”

FROM MISERY TO MINISTRY

Stacie and Michael both recognize that when Michael started attending the institute, things really began to change.

“At that point, I felt God was calling me into the ministry,” Michael says. “There was also a lot of healing taking place in my life.”

In June 2013 Michael graduated from the institute and went right into full-time vocational ministry. “I was a youth pastor and part of a church plant in Hollywood for about five years,” he says. “I got licensed during the time and ordained as an AG minister in 2019.”

Stacie has also seen her career advance in ATC to where now she is the director of the ATC in Graham, using her difficult life experiences to relate to and help the women at the Graham ATC heal and find their hope in Christ.

“I work with so many women struggling with the same thoughts I had — I’m no good, I’m an addict, I’m not going to be a good mother,” Stacie says. “But then, we talk about Christ and how God is transforming them — we give them hope and it’s amazing to see God at work in them!”

And to top things off, Michael and his wife, Lauren, moved with their children to Sumner, Washington, putting them closer to Portland so Michael could continue his education at Western Seminary. However, when he arrived, God also opened the door for him to work for Absolute Ministries.

“Absolute Ministries has almost like a sister relationship with Adult & Teen Challenge,” Michael explains. “It’s the next step – providing transitional housing, job placement, a financial framework, and helping graduates get plugged into a church . . . I love working here.”

As with Stacie, Michael has found a lot of the men he works with come from broken homes and have deep mother and/or father wounds.

“I’m able to engage and love on these guys,” he says, “love on them and walk them through what I’ve walked through.”

Michael says that being closer to Stacie and having more of a personal relationship with her was another reason they originally selected Western Seminary.

“I also have a great relationship with my parents,” Michael says. “We call them quite often so they can Facetime with the kids, Cove (4) and Cambria (4 months).”

“I’m just so proud of him and who he’s become,” Stacie says of Michael. “He’s an amazing young man of God who loves the Lord so much and has a profound anointing on his life.”

NOT ALL ROSES

The reality of life is that it’s never perfect this side of heaven. Although Stacie and Michael have seen God work in incredible ways, there are still plenty of challenges to keep in prayer.

Michael freely shares that although he has forgiven Stacie and his biological father, he’s still journeying through that forgiveness as there are moments when thoughts and emotions will unexpectedly attack him. “I’m still walking out that forgiveness,” he says, “and probably will for the rest of my life . . . though I currently do feel like I’m in a ‘sweet spot’ in my life.”

That ‘sweet spot’ includes Michael and Stacie recently having an opportunity to minister together as he emceed an event for Stacie at the ATC in Graham.

For Stacie, although she has 11 grandchildren, her two daughters also went through significant trauma in their young lives, leading both of them to end up with addiction issues. Although one daughter has made it through — is married, raising a family, and, as Stacie relates, “is doing amazing despite the challenges that have come her way” — the other daughter is struggling greatly. Stacie and James have guardianship over her three children (ages 7, 8, and 9), praying that one day she will have a life-changing encounter with Christ.

“Addiction is very ugly,” Stacie says. “But now, both Michael and I are impacting lives of so many people, helping them come out of addiction and establish their lives in Christ; it’s very humbling. I just think our story is powerful – one of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration that I pray will help others see that despite what has happened in their lives, nothing is impossible for God . . . He took my broken life and made something beautiful . . . and if God can restore me and my family, He can restore anyone!”

PHOTO: Stacie with her son, Michael, and his baby daughter, Cambria. Photo credit: Portraits by Janna

 

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