In the past seven years, Michelle and Kyle Yeager and their biological children, Caleb and Emily, have welcomed 15 foster children to their Cobb County home. Some have been removed from their homes due to drugs and the neglect and abuse that follows. Some have had bruises and bite marks – from their parents or other adults in their lives. Some have been fending for themselves for as long as they can remember; constantly searching for food, trying to hide so no one can see them and being afraid of any physical display of emotion. Some have been homeless or living in motels. And some have been with a parent who was also a foster child and just as helpless – they never received the guidance or teaching necessary to have a successful family of their own.
“Throughout the Bible, we are taught to look after the orphans, to defend the weak and fatherless, and rescue the needy,” said Emily, who’s 18 and has a passion for foster care. “God constantly reminds us in His Word that it is our responsibility as Christians to love everyone. These children did not choose the life they are being forced to live and do not have the power to help themselves. They are the orphans, the weak, the fatherless and the needy.”
With each child or sibling group, the Yeager’s have worked towards reunification with the biological parents.
“Our family realized how difficult it was for children just be dropped into our home and knew it would be the same scenario when the children were returned to family,” Michelle said. “God showed us that while we were teaching the children about Him, their families also needed Him. These kids have had enough trauma and we just wanted to ease the process for them and have an opportunity to be Jesus to their families. We have worked with moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, and uncles [in the reunification process].
In January 2016, 8-year-old Alex* came to live with Kyle and Michelle Yeager and their two biological children. He was only there for several days before they realized he had two younger brothers. The Yeager’s immediately began looking for them and two months later, 4-year-old Devon* and 2-year-old Tyler*, were also placed with the Yeagers.
They had many challenges with the brothers. In the beginning, it was school.
“They had been moved around 2-4 times in a two-month period. Change like that would be hard for anyone. When you do not believe in yourself or anyone around you, life is tough and you do not succeed,” Michelle said.
“We believed in them, though. We showed them how to do things that they did not know how to do. We showed up for them. We picked them up when we said we would. We were there when they went to sleep and when they woke up. We loved them, even when they messed up. We taught them their actions did not define who they were. If they did something wrong, they could fix it or change their behavior the next time. We taught them how to respond in ways that did not hurt them. For example, if they were angry, kicking or hitting or yelling would not change their situation for the positive. We connected their behaviors with their life experiences and taught them what behaviors resulted in better experiences/outcomes.”
Skin color was also an issue. Not with the Yeagers, but with outsiders.
“We taught them God made us all and it did not matter. The general public did not agree with us all the time, though” Michelle said. “We had lots of supportive family and friends but sometimes it only takes one comment to dig deep. One of the boy’s friends at school told him I could not be his mom because I was white. His response? ‘She can be my mom because love is red!’
“We used each experience we had when someone pointed out the difference in our skin color to teach them that love and relationship mattered, not our skin. God has used our differences to grow us all in our compassion and love for one another.”
A Mom’s Heart
Two months after all three boys were living with them, Michelle met their biological mom at a visitation.
“She was a lost mom without her kids. Her love for them was evident. She had been raised in foster care and I don’t think she trusted me at first. She had been let down by a lot of different people and I was the fourth foster home for her oldest child and the second foster home for her other two,” Michelle said.
“In the previous foster homes, the children had not been treated well. She lived foster care herself so she knew the hard place foster care can be. Once she saw how our family truly loved her children, cared for them, and included her (by phone and visits), she realized things could be different. She told me she wanted to be better, she wanted better for her boys; however, she did not know how. So, together, we began working toward growing and learning.”
According to their FaithBridge Family Consultant Debbie Parsons, the Yeagers have been a great example of partnership parenting.
“Michelle began working with the biological mom, inviting her to the house to help teach her parenting skills and how to parent her boys. The Yeagers also provided extra visits for her in their home, including overnights as they boys got ready to transition home,” Debbie said. “They’ve even helped provide care for the boys after reunification so that their mom could work and they would be safe. They’ve advocated not only for the children but also for the parents to obtain adequate housing and services.”
Even more special, one of the boys came to know Christ and was baptized while living with the Yeagers. The biological mom gave permission and even attended the baptism.
Today, many months after reunification, the biological mom and the Yeagers still maintain regular contact through family dinners, church and other outings.
“They have moved to Woodstock and live about three miles from us. We work together every week taking care of the boys. I am very proud of her,” Michelle said. “I’m old enough to be her mom. She actually calls me Mama Michelle and we grown and learn together.”
Whether it was the brother or other foster children they’ve had, all have impacted the Yeagers’ lives.
“They teach us patience, kindness, and forgiveness. Fostering teaches you not to judge quickly, but to consider someone’s circumstances and realize that they may simply need help,” Emily said. “We will never forget the little things: when one successfully read a book for the first time, or when another rode a bike for the first time, or one’s first day of preschool. We witnessed a lot of ‘firsts’ with these boys and it has been such a joy to watch them grow.”
Throughout their foster journey, the Yeagers have relied on FaithBridge and their church’s community of care – WeFoster at First Baptist of Woodstock.
“They have been a constant aid throughout all this,” Emily said. “The clothes closet [at WeFoster] is a huge help, especially when the kids first come to our house. They often show up with only the clothes on their backs, the diaper they’re wearing, and no toys/personal effects. We immediately look for car seats, a new outfit, and a stuffed animal. WeFoster provides us with these items, sometimes even driving them to us if possible.”
For all of the Yeagers, fostering has changed their lives in many ways.
“Being part of a family that can be reunited is amazing,” Michelle said. “Knowing that God used us to help is humbling. I never seem to know what I am doing. I just love. I try to love in a way that God would love them. I mess up and somehow God always shows me a way to teach through it.
“Fostering has taught me more about my relationship with God than any other experience I have had. Now that this family has been reunited, they have kept us in their lives. We both have family that we never expected to have. The mom and two of the boys have been baptized. And God, just as He promised, continues to work in all of our lives.”