Prairie Wife of the Week: Michele Belveal (Foster Care and Overseas Adoption)
Posted March 28, 2016 by Prairie Wife - 5 comments
It’s not often that I cry in public, but yet again here is another Prairie Wife interview that had me crying in my Starbucks coffee. Michele is a women with a heart full of strength, determination and joy. We laughed just as much as we teared up while she shared her journey as a woman, wife, and mother. She married her college sweetheart, had three children, found herself fostering two young girls and, is now heading off to China to welcome two more young teenagers into their home. This Prairie Wife of the week will inspire you to be courageous, and find a way to help your community (and the world) in ways you never thought were possible.
Prairie Wife (PW): First tell us a little bit about your family.
Michele Belveal (MB): My husband Nick and I both grew up in Wyoming, though Nick has lived here a bit longer than me. Nick and I met at the University of Wyoming at the end of our freshman year, we began dating our sophomore year, and we were married in-between our junior and senior year. I graduated with a degree in Elementary Education and we had our first child (Ashley) that same year in August. We eventually moved to Indianapolis where my husband received his second degree. Our son Andrew was born, and then we moved Iowa. Then we had our second son Austin in 2000 and through the course of many varied and unusual events, we moved to Casper, Wyoming. I can’t lie; it took me awhile to readjust to Wyoming life! But, now I can honestly say I love it, we are so happy to live here, and we have an amazing support system.
PW: You’re a huge advocate for Foster Parenting, can you talk a little bit about your personal experiences?
MB: In 2009 Nick and I went to a church event, and when I walked in I saw a booth that said Orphan Sunday. I had heard my husband mention the importance of orphan care a few times and frankly, my friends were doing it, so I agreed to help with music. At the time I thought they were crazy…in one day of ministry they wanted to try and get 10 orphans adopted in our church. Six years later more than 10 children have been adopted by people at our church. After participating in our first orphan Sunday we agreed we needed to become a bigger part of the ministry. We signed up for foster care classes because we thought it was a good place to start our journey to adoption.
Soon after we began taking the classes we were approached about taking care of a baby with special needs, they asked if we felt comfortable …I felt overwhelmed and said no but, I spread the word at our church. A couple came to us and asked us to co foster the baby with them. This meant that we would watch the baby during the day while they worked, and they would parent nights and weekends. We said yes and a week later we went to get the baby. Because of his special needs I learned a lot about slowing down and being mindful of everything I did with the baby. After a few months the other family ended up adopting him and taking over all his care. To this day we are a part of their lives and I couldn’t’ be happier with how things worked out.
During that experience we were awed and humbled by how the people in our community rallied around him and us and it gave us the courage to say…maybe we could do this!
At this time I also gave respite care for foster families that wanted to travel. This means I would watch the foster kids while their families went on vacation. The biological parents can tell a foster family whether or not their child is allowed to be taken out of the city. Sometimes that means the foster family goes on vacation and are not allowed to take their foster children with them. So offering respite care was a way I could help everyone but, it didn’t put too much pressure on our family. Eventually two girls coming up for foster care in church and I simply knew they were meant to be our girls. So, I offered to do respite care.
At the time the girls were 10 and 11. It was an amazing week and they were so much fun. We ended up getting guardianship of the girls in 2010 and they have lived with us ever since then. We have a relationship with their family and, that balancing act can be hard. But we would never change having them in our lives. Those girls have brought way more to our family than they ever took away. What we had to “sacrifice”, the adjustments for all of us that came when we brought two preteen girls into our home and hearts…well….it was nothing compared to their sacrifices that they had no choice in making.
PW: This last year you participated in Project 143 and hosted an orphan. What was that like?
MB: Dec 2014 I was ready for a change in my life! My kids were older; I had a plan, a list of life goals I had set my sights on completing. I loved the first season of life, our life with small children, and I was ready for the next season…
Then one day I was scrolling through Facebook, and I saw a few pleas for people that would be willing to host an orphan through Project 143. I saw a picture of a little Asian girl and kept scrolling on…But, 24 hours later I couldn’t stop thinking about her. My heart said, I need to find her! Later I showed her picture with Nick. When he saw all the pictures of orphans waiting for families he simply said, we have to do this…. We decided we just had to have that little girl from China. When we looked further into it and saw that she had half her fees already payed, I knew we had to get on it!
The first week she was here she was the bossiest thing ever, it was hilarious. She didn’t speak English and would just sit there pointing at us and telling us what to do. We eventually learned that she has special needs and had a severe vision impairment. I wish I could describe to you how she looked when we first put her new glasses on her face. She was truly seeing the world for the first time. She taught me so much about perspective. So there we were at the end of the trip filling out reports. One of the questions is, would you like to adopt this child? Nick was all for adoption, and I was really struggling. I realized it was time for me to set aside my idea of how I thought thing were going to be. I had to die to myself and put the journey back in God’s hands (where it had been all along). God gave me courage and I knew I had surrendered my heart to His will when I had to put her back on the plane to go home…It was so hard…
PW: Next month, you and your husband are traveling to China to adopt not one but two little girls. How did you make this decision, and can you walk us through the overseas adoption process?
MB: When we committed to Qing Kai (soon to be Jadyn Joy) we felt that she should have a sister, and that we could and should adopt two girls. All we knew was that we didn’t feel prepared for another young child with severe special needs. So, after doing all the paperwork (so much paperwork) I found myself looking at an email from Project 143 and the orphans that were available for winter hosting. I was going to delete it because I was already adopting and couldn’t afford to host another one. Then I felt prompted by the Holy Spirit that maybe the sister we wanted to adopt with Jadyn, a door I thought had been closed months before, was on that new hosting page.
Like before I scrolled through and came upon a 13 year old with albinism. I just knew she was our other daughter and I applied for her.
Adoption through China, which has an established government, is so much “smoother” than some other countries. Despite that, we knew that orphans age out at 14 and are no longer available for adoption so, we had only a few months to get everything done! Through a miracle her paperwork was there just when we needed it.
The next hurdle is the money. The orphanage fee alone for each girl is 5600! All together (including travel expenses, vaccinations, visas and government fees) to bring our daughters home will cost about 43,000 dollars. There are grants, loans, fundraisers and other ways to get the money but it all takes time, energy and of course tons of paperwork! You have to have that money to get your children; you can’t bring them home without it.
The generosity of our community has made this all come together for us. Without the sacrifices of friends and family members we couldn’t bring these girls home. $43,000 seems like an insurmountable amount of money. But, we knew God was calling us to this, and when He calls, He provides it all; financially, as well as courage, grace and strength. Each time a payment was due, He provided. Whether with an opportunity to work respite for someone, a fundraiser, or with a check in the mail. There is no other explanation other than God…
PW: Your daughters both have some special needs. Are you intimidated by this?
MB: No. We’ve had experiences in our lives that have prepared us for them. I have learned over and over that you get grace for what you need, and I have no doubt that we can handle it.
PW: When you bring them back to the United States what are some of the first things that you plan to do to help them physically and emotionally?
There are still a lot of unknowns for both the girls health wise. First we take them to our family doctor and eye appointments and dental care. I already know there will be major dental surgery and work needed on both girls. The next step will be to get them tested for school and see where their gaps from their education institutional living will place them. From there we will see what the best option is for their schooling.
PW: What are some of your concerns for the girls, and what are the joys you are looking forward to?
MB: While I’ve had amazing experiences, I know that there is a lot of unknowns with these girls. My whole family is going to be turned upside down. I worry they won’t like each other, and that they won’t be able to put aside the rejections from their own family and country. I am concerned about the emotional and developmental delays they will have from being in an orphanage.
In China they would most likely age out of the orphanage, become second class citizens, and with their lack of education it will be hard for them to find a job. Frankly the tragic truth is, many end up as sex slaves. But, I don’t know if they will know that. Even if they do understand it eventually, I don’t want them to be bitter towards China. Bitterness has never helped anyone succeed in life. I don’t expect them to be grateful to me but, I don’t want them to resent us either. Our country will give them chances they never could have had in China, and I worry that they are too old to accept that.
I’m looking forwarding to the laughter of my whole family, united again. A big table full of chatter, and the best kind of chaos.
In the end, helping the girls find their way and place in this new world will be both the challenge and gift of their life.
PW: How do your children feel about your growing family?
MB: When we first entered orphan ministry my bio kids were the ones challenging me to surrender my comfort areas. We all soon learned that sacrifice was going to be an everyday thing for everyone, for a long time. We have our difficult days, but in the long run we have been able to look back with thankfulness at the gifts this sacrifice of comfort gave our family. My two girls (the ones we have guardianship of) are so excited for this. They understand what the new girls will be going through, and I know they will play a major role in helping them adjust to a new family life.
PW: Where do you hope to see your family in the next few years?
MB: I hope to see all of my kids enjoying the blessings that God has provided them with.
PW: Any last Prairie Wife words of wisdom?
MB: 3% of people that say they want to adopt actually do it. For “free” there are over 150 children in Wyoming right now in the Foster Care system waiting for families to open up their heats and homes. Just do it. Be courageous.
If you feel like you can’t, walk along side families that are! You can help with the basics: making meals, cleaning their house, respite care for foster families…drive the foster children for their weekly visitations, offer to watch the kids so they can go on a date. There are so many simple ways you can support the Foster Community without spending any money. I promise you, you’ll get back way more than you put into it…