NATHHAN National Challenged Homeschoolers Associated Network

Christian Families Homeschooling Special Needs Children

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The Story of Sugar Buttons, Joshua and Their Mommy

By Tom and Sherry Bushnell and Penny Vlahon

              We have always found it amusing (and sometimes disquieting) how one phone call or conversation can change our lives. 

              A birth mom, calling from a crisis pregnancy center in South Carolina, was faced with a dilemma.  She was a new Christian.  Very sick with morning sickness, alone, and caring for a son that was severely disabled (terminally sick), she was needing answers. 

From a medical standpoint, her obvious choice was abortion. As a Christian now, she knew that as hard as carrying this baby might be, she could not terminate the pregnancy with a clear conscience.

She felt that even though she made a wrong choice did not mean that another bad choice should be made to “make life easier” for her. She was ready to start doing right!

         After assessing her needs, making several phone calls to South Carolina, and coming up with no immediate help, we prayed that God would provide for Penny right now, in a real way.

We could hear Penny’s heart-wrenching cry for help. Her immediate family didn’t seem to be an option for her.

We re-thought over her present situation. Penny had recently moved in with a lady who agreed to care for her and Sugar Buttons in exchange for the baby. Now, few weeks into the agreement, after Penny had already let go of her government housing, the lady decided that caring for them was too much work and asked her to leave. The SC government housing waiting list was a mile long and emergency housing wasn’t appropriate for a child who was slowing dying.

The bottom line was, Penny was in a hard situation and we were not coming up with help for them. CHASK, committed to ministering to the unborn and birth moms, was about to feel first hand the blessing of stepping out and sharing. 

Our family flew Penny and Sugar Buttons (His real name is Stephanos, almost no one calls him that!) to our home in Northern Idaho, way up by the Canadian border. It was a very big step in faith for Penny, as medical help was further away and she did not know us.   

Getting off the plane in Spokane, it was cold.  Snow fell occasionally, as it was early Spring.

We gave her a downstairs room to herself and her son.  It was very plain. We did not have very much to offer her.  She seemed grateful and spent much of her time either feeding and caring for Sugar Buttons, or sleeping in exhaustion from  pregnancy.

Sugar Buttons was diagnosed with a mitrochondrial, neuro-degenerative disorder. He had respiratory issues and needed occasional suctioning to keep breathing.  He was tube fed. We were able to get the right kind of formula (and enough of it!) from Idaho Medicaid right away. Penny was devoted to Sugar Buttons. It was easy to see that she felt really overwhelmed with the idea of caring for a brand new baby, along with his constant needs.  We assured her that we were committed to the idea of life for her unborn baby. We were prepared to prove it by giving our love and care to this unborn baby’s mommy and brother!

As the baby in her womb grew bigger, our love for Penny and Sugar Buttons grew too.  They became a special part of our family. 

Jim and Jerri Unruh also grew in friendship with them.  Due to a warmer living situation for Sugar Button’s health, they decided to move into a room that the Unruh family had.

Next, CHASK and Pennies From Heaven, a non-profit organization, raised money to buy a car for Penny.  This  made it much easier for her to get to the numerous doctor’s appointments for Sugar Buttons, without relying on asking for rides each time.

As her time to give birth grew near, Penny decided that she felt strong enough to drive out-of-state to stay with friends to have her baby.  They would care for her while she was resting after having her new baby, and care for Sugar Buttons at the same time.

On God’s appointed date, Penny had a baby boy and named she him Joshua.  The birth went very well. She was immediately in love with her precious bundle. The Lord worked it all out.  The care for both the new baby and Sugar Buttons became a manageable routine.

We are all very blessed to have played a part in meeting the needs of Penny and her family. After that, we only heard from them once in a while over several years, until recently, when we got a special letter and some pictures from Penny. Penny gave us permission to share her story with all of you. 

Penny, our family, and the Unruh’s, would like you to see what great things God can do when we obey His voice.  We believe it was God’s will that Penny come to stay with us and with the Unruh family.  It was not always easy and there were definite challenges.  We can all attest that God’s love covers it all. 


Dear Bushnells, the Unruhs and NATHHAN / CHASK,

I’m not sure how to start this letter. I guess I should start with a very big thank you for sharing the Lord with me in your home, in a way I had never seen Him shared before.  Thank you for all of your generosity and kindness…. Especially for showing that kindness to someone like me.  I can’t even express in words what all that means to me especially now, since I’ve been making such an attempt to get acquainted with our God.

I’m finding out more and more everyday how little I know about the Lord.  I do understand about how much darkness I was in all of my life. All I see now is the light of His love shining on me.  He is teaching me more everyday and I am go grateful.  As I pray and read His word everyday and die to myself, I find Him showing up more and more in me.  His word says that if I draw close to Him, He will draw close to me.  And He truly does.  It’s hard to believe, He’s really REAL!!!  But He is!!  This amazes me, because I always thought that people with “faith” in God meant worshiping “something” and to “believe” in something meaningful to each individual.  And that we might never know if this “something” existed at all.  Now I know that’s not true.  It’s not a “blind” faith.

I prayed and asked God to explain some things in His word to me, if He was real… AND HE DID!  Just Him and no one else.  Now all I want to do is to become what He wants me to become. I want so much to know more about Him.  I want to know how I can make Him happy with me and what I say, think and do.

Please pray for me and my family, that we would somehow become the kind of people He could use for His purposes. 


Penny, Sugar Buttons and Joshua


    *Editor's Note: Today Penny, Joshua, and Sugar Buttons live in South Carolina.  They  are doing well.  Sugar Buttons was re-diagnosed with an enzyme deficiency and has greatly improved with a new way of treating his symptoms.  He is growing and gaining skills.  Little Joshua has become a huge blessing to Penny, helping his mommy with Sugar Buttons’ needs.

We at NATHHAN / CHASK want to thank you for supporting us in ministering to birth moms like Penny.  Without you behind us, we could not have offered Penny help.

Please continue to pray for birth moms who are making life choices for their baby, in spite of difficult circumstances.  It is very true that God provides.  He always makes a way, even when the future looks bleak.


Have you ever thought about the long term consequences of being used by God?

Being used by God means making yourself available to others. This means that we need to share our homes, our finances, our food, our time and our friendship. 

What a blessing we received from Penny and Sugar Buttons.  When she left, we all felt a big hole in our lives. Letting go hurts.  Being content with where God has someone spiritually can help us “lean not on our own understanding,”.  Serving Christ by serving others can bring a roller coaster of emotions.  Especially if we are not centered on why we are giving of ourselves.

Are we giving of ourselves to look good? To get something in return, or because we pity someone?  Burn-out guaranteed. We need to serve Christ and He alone to avoid getting bitter.

Do we believe that HE truly is in charge of even the little things that occur daily?

Do we worry when someone we are ministering to doesn’t make the life choices we feel they should?  God isn’t finished with them yet!



















         Does ministering to someone mean that we run their lives (or they ours??).

I would be glad to hear about your experiences ministering to birth moms in crisis.  What  has happened in the lives of those you have shared with?  Here is your opportunity to encourage brothers and sisters in Christ that may be tired-out, burned out, or just plain scared of being all used up.  Are you all used up and empty?  It happens.

Perhaps one of the most astounding things to me is finding out that God actually used our family’s humble efforts to help Penny.  Not just physical help, but miraculously he brought about spiritual fruit in His good time.

Years later we can see that God used our love for Penny to minister His love to her heart.  God’s Word did not return void. Our efforts in reaching out to her was His plan. Little did we know that the Lord was creating a special reward for us, years later.  Penny’s deep love for the Lord and her commitment to Him is being brought to life in His way and in His time. 

Penny’s letter is a reminder to us to be prepared to minister in small ways (a dinner, child-care, a sweet letter, a hug, a smile) and not to be afraid of ministering in big ways too.

Let’s all be ready to plant seeds and not be impatient for the harvest!