“There were many life-changing and unforgettable moments from when our daughter Brynlee Cornell was born 15 weeks early, weighting just one-pound and ten-ounces. Those events have played a substantial role in shaping how we live our days.
When Brynlee was just one day old and weighted only one-pound, six-ounces (she had lost a bit of ‘baby fat’ in the first 24 hours), I drove home from the hospital to get some things for my wife, Emily, who was recovering from giving birth. I knew there was a good chance Brynlee wasn’t going to survive and I may not get to see her again. I also knew Emily may never get to hold her (we hadn’t been able to hold her yet in her fragile condition). As I thought about the possibility of losing her, I allowed myself to grieve. I fell on the floor at home and I cried and cried, telling God I would accept whatever happened next, but I pleaded with God that He would keep Brynlee alive long enough for Emily to hold her, a petition God more than honored. When I returned to the hospital having already dealt with what losing her would be like, I was blessed to get to spend that day with her, and the next day and the next day…and here we are, seven years later! It was a rough ride for those first 99 days she spent in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). She nearly died many times early on.
One of those times is forever etched into my memory. My wife, Emily, was holding Brynlee in a chair when she was just a few weeks old and still tiny. They were doing skin-to-skin ‘Kangaroo Care’ which is really important in a premature baby’s development. As Emily was sitting there with ‘Baby B’ on her chest the alarms started to sound. If you’ve had a baby in the NICU you know those sounds. Just reading this may make you feel a little sick inside thinking about those alarms. They go off when your baby’s numbers drop too low. Brynlee had an oxygen desaturation and her heart rate dropped, both to deadly numbers if they weren’t brought back up soon. Nurses rushed into the room to crank up the oxygen and do what they could to bring the numbers back up. This wasn’t the first time this had happened when Emily was holding Brynlee. Emily calmly rubbed Baby B’s back saying, ‘Stay away from the light baby, stay alive sweetheart, we love you.’ It was at that moment I realized what powerful women I had in my life. I knew how strong Taylor, our oldest daughter, was—I’ll share her story down the road, but watching my wife and tiny daughter handle this near-death experience left me in awe.
I could go on about Brynlee’s story, but the main point is how it has shaped the way our family views each day. We’ve tried to live a life where we view every day as a bonus. Our family has made it our mission to impact as many people as deeply as we can and that has led us to foster care.
We are blessed to have two beautiful daughters, Brynlee, now seven, and her older sister Taylor, who is nineteen. Taylor and Brynlee are both gifted with the ability to love deeply, and this has made it possible for our family to become a foster family. I had never considered fostering. Most of my life has been involved in coaching and mentoring youth, but fostering wasn’t on our radar. It wasn’t until one of my best friends, Jeff Clemens, started dating his now wife, Katie Clemens, I got to see up close what fostering looked like. Katie had been fostering for years before she and Jeff got together and I was in awe of how easy they opened up their house and their hearts to kids in need. We felt fostering matched up well with our family mission to help people at the deepest level we could and to honor the Christian mandate of James 1:27 (from the Bible)—’Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble…’
We began fostering almost two years ago. Our first go at it was overwhelming and discouraging. We took in two young boys who were more than we could handle. They were too aggressive and close in age to our younger daughter for it to be a safe situation. After several sleepless nights we had to say, ‘This isn’t working.’ It felt horrible. We questioned if fostering was the right thing for us. But I was encouraged by many stories about how setting parameters (age ranges, behaviors, level of needs) was crucial to being a successful foster parent. The idea I had of ‘we can make anything work’ wasn’t the healthiest approach for a family. That changed everything for us.We settled in to taking short-term placements after that—at least we thought we had.
As I’m writing this, we just put our foster son to bed for the night. We’ve had him for the past six months and took him in just after he turned one. We are not going to be his ‘forever home,’ but we are his home right now. In fact, we are hopeful he will find a permanent home soon. But right now, we’ve just been choosing to love him the best we can, like each day is a bonus.
We call him ‘Little Buddy’ when we are talking to others about our foster son. Before Little Buddy we had only been doing short-term fostering and respite care (overnight babysitting foster kids when a foster family needs to travel or take a break). We were just heading into the potential of the lock down in March due to COVID-19 when the call came in (when you are a registered foster family, you get lots and lots of calls for kids in need). We had agreed a long-term placement didn’t fit where are family was at in this season, having just launched a new nonprofit aimed at building positive youth sports cultures. But when my wife got off the call she simply said, ‘He needs us.’ And that settled it. He moved in right away and within a few days we were on lock down.
It hasn’t been an easy six months. Little Buddy brings a whole different dynamic to our very easy-going family. He needs a lot of attention (don’t we all), he’s dealing with some stuff from his past (aren’t we all) and he has a tendency to get angry (I know, right?). I’d love to say the past six months have been a fairy tale… but they haven’t. It’s been hard, really hard. But the reward has been absolutely worth it. It’s hard to try and help a little one that screams and hits when he doesn’t get what he wants. But it’s worth it when he doesn’t want you to leave the house and runs to give you a hug before you go. It’s hard when he does something really naughty just for the attention. But it’s worth it when you see him growing, feeling safe, loved and you know he’s not someplace dangerous.
During our time as a foster family, we have gotten involved with an organization called Every Child Central Oregon. They do everything possible to meet the needs of a system bursting with needs. Through our work with them and our experience fostering, we’ve learned there is a place in the foster community for everyone. From long-term and adoptive foster families, to short-term or babysitting. From buying diapers, providing transportation or dropping off a meal, if you care about kids you can do something to help foster kids and their families.
Our time with Little Buddy will be coming to an end soon. We don’t know what is going to be next for us when it comes to fostering (we’ll be involved in some capacity as listed above). But even if we decide to take a much-needed break, I won’t be shocked if Emily answers the phone and says, ‘They need us.’ Until then, we are just going to try to love the best we can, because everyday is a bonus.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by the Cordell Family of Bend, Oregon. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and on their website. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read more inspiring stories from foster parents:
‘The ministry called. ‘We have a boy and a girl. Would you be open to adopting two children?’ WHAT? Could this be real?! We were moved to tears.’: After 11 miscarriages, failed surrogacy, couple adopt 2 kids from foster care
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