‘She just stated, ‘He requires our assistance.’ He immediately moved in. ‘We’ve become his home.’ After a preemie beats the odds, a family nurtures him.

“Our daughter Brynlee Cornell was born 15 weeks early, weighing only one pound and ten ounces, and there were many life-changing and unforgettable moments.” Those events have had a significant impact on how we live our lives.

I drove home from the hospital when Brynlee was just one day old and weighed only one pound, six ounces (she had lost some ‘baby fat’ in the first 24 hours) to collect some things for my wife, Emily who was recovering after giving birth. I knew there was a risk Brynlee wouldn’t make it, and I would never see her again. I also realized Emily would never get to hold her (because of her frail state, we hadn’t been able to keep her yet). I allowed myself to grieve as I considered the potential of losing her. I collapsed on the floor at home and sobbed uncontrollably, assuring God that I would accept whatever occurred next but pleading with Him to keep Brynlee alive long enough for Emily to hold her, a request that God dutifully granted. When I went to the hospital after dealing with the possibility of losing her, I was fortunate enough to spend that day with her, as well as the next day and the next…and here we are, seven years later! For the first 99 days in the NICU, she had a tough time (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). She came close to death several times early on.

Courtesy of the Cordell Family

One of those occasions is indelible in my mind. When Brynlee was just a few weeks old and still little, my wife, Emily, held her in a chair. They were providing ‘Kangaroo Care,’ which is crucial in the growth of a premature infant. The sirens began to sound as Emily sat there with ‘Baby B’ on her chest. If you’ve ever had a baby in the NICU, you’re familiar with these sounds. Thinking about those alarms may make you feel a little sick just by reading this. When your baby’s numbers fall too low, they go off. Brynlee’s oxygen saturation and pulse rate had both dropped to dangerously low levels if they weren’t restored quickly. Nurses hurried into the room, increasing the oxygen and doing everything to raise the figures. This wasn’t the first time Emily had experienced something like this while holding Brynlee. ‘Stay away from the light, baby, stay alive dear, we love you,’ Emily said quietly as she caressed Baby B’s back. That’s when I realized how many strong ladies I had in my life. I knew Taylor, our oldest daughter, was tricky—I’ll tell you about her later—but watching my wife and tiny daughter deal with this near-death experience left me speechless.

Courtesy of the Cordell Family

I could go on and on about Brynlee’s tale, but the point is that it has influenced how our family approaches each day. We’ve attempted to live a life where every day is viewed as a gift. Our family has made it our aim to have a profound impact on as many people as possible, which has led us to foster care.

Brynlee, who is now seven years old, and her older sister Taylor, nineteen, are our two beautiful kids. Our family has become a foster family because Taylor and Brynlee are both given the ability to love passionately. I had never considered becoming a foster parent. I’ve spent much of my life coaching and mentoring kids, but fostering wasn’t on our radar. I didn’t get to witness what fostering looked like until one of my best friends, Jeff Clemens, started dating his now-wife, Katie Clemens. Katie had been fostering for years before she and Jeff met, and I was amazed at how quickly they opened their home and hearts to children in need. Fostering seemed to fit well with our family’s purpose to serve people on the most fundamental level possible, as well as to obey 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 distress…’

Courtesy of the Cordell Family

We’ve been fostering for almost two years. Our initial attempt was exasperating and depressing. We took in two little boys who proved to be too much for us to handle. They were far too violent and closed in age to our younger daughter for the situation to be safe. ‘This isn’t working,’ we had to admit after several sleepless nights. It was a dreadful experience. We debated whether or not fostering was the best option for us. However, many examples about how establishing parameters (age ranges, habits, and level of needs) was critical to becoming a successful foster parent encouraged me. The attitude of ‘we can make anything work’ wasn’t the healthiest for a family. For us, that was the turning point. After that, we got into the habit of taking short-term assignments—or so we believed.

We just put our foster boy to bed for the night as I write this. We’ve kept him for six months, having taken him in just after he turned one. We won’t be his ‘permanent home,’ but we are his home for the time being. We are optimistic that he will soon find a permanent home. But for the time being, we’ve just been choosing to love him as much as we can, as if every day is a gift.

Courtesy of the Cordell Family

When we talk about our foster son, we refer to him as ‘Little Buddy.’ We had only done short-term fostering and respite care before Little Buddy (overnight babysitting foster kids when a foster family needs to travel or take a break). When the call came in in March, we were just about to enter the possibility of a lockdown because of COVID-19 (when you are a registered foster family, you get lots and lots of calls for kids in need). We had decided that a long-term placement didn’t match where our family was at this point in the season since we had just founded a new organization dedicated to fostering great youth sports cultures. But when my wife hung up the phone, all she said was, ‘He needs us.’ That was the end of it. He moved in immediately away, and we were on lockdown within a few days.

Courtesy of the Cordell Family

It hasn’t been an enjoyable six months. Little Buddy adds a whole new aspect to our typically laid-back family. He requires a lot of attention (don’t we all? ), he is coping with issues from his past (aren’t we all? ), and he is prone to get enraged (I know, right?). I’d want to say the last six months have been like something out of a fairy tale… They haven’t, however. It’s been quite tricky. However, the payoff has been well worth the effort. It’s challenging to assist a small child who cries and hits when he doesn’t receive what he wants. But it’s all worth it when he refuses to let you leave the house and rushes over to hug you before you go. It’s challenging to do something he shouldn’t merely to get attention. But it’s all worth it when you see him develop, feel protected and loved, and know he’s not in danger.

Courtesy of the Cordell Family

We were engaged with Every Child Central Oregon during our time as foster parents. They do everything they can to meet the demands of an overburdened system. We’ve learned that everyone has a place in the foster community due to our work with them and our fostering experience. Long-term and adoptive foster families, as well as short-term or babysitting placements, are available. If you care about children, you may help foster children and their families by purchasing diapers, offering transportation, or dropping lunch.

Our time with Little Buddy is almost drawing to a close. We’re not sure what we’ll do next in fostering (we’ll be active in some manner, as said above). Even if we decide to take a well-deserved vacation, I wouldn’t be surprised if Emily answered the phone and said, “They need us.” Until then, we’ll strive to love as much as we can because every day is a gift.”

Courtesy of the Cordell Family
Courtesy of the Cordell Family

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