Sometimes it can be hard to see the goodness in a difficult situation. At times, God asks us to do uncomfortable things that ultimately become our greatest blessings.
That certainly happened for John and Kim Cranham in the 1990s when Kim felt a nudging toward a helpless baby she was working with. Together, she and her husband made a choice that has made all the difference since then.
Kim, an occupational therapist, worked primarily with premature and sick babies, which is how she came across a special infant named Cornell.
Weighing just 1 pound and 9 ounces at birth, and born 3 1/2 months early to a mother struggling with drugs, Cornell was left orphaned at the Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters NICU in Virginia, with no one to love him but the staff members who worked with him.
The answer became clear to Kim, who fell in love with the boy who faced a potentially miserable future. She and her husband, John, a dentist, had been trying to start a family without success, and here was a little boy who desperately needed a family.
“I had been to that unit,” John said, according to FaithWire. “It was a very scary place to me. I did not like going over there.
“A lot of those kids didn’t ever leave, but miraculously, Cornell started to take breaths over his vent one day, and then two days later, Kim found out he was now going to be moved to a home for profoundly (mentally disabled) children. And that’s when she kind of came to me one day and said, ‘I think we’re going through all this because we’re supposed to bring him home.’”
Eventually, John agreed, and they began the difficult work of adapting themselves and their lives to their newest addition to the family, learning all they could to provide well for Cornell.
The boy’s prognosis wasn’t great, and in those early months the Cranhams were given little hope that their relationship with him would be fulfilling, with some even suggesting they would grow weary of the work and back out of their commitment to him.
Doctors were among those who warned it wouldn’t be easy.
“I remember they said he’s never going to walk or talk, and he’s probably never going to love you like a normal child would love you,” John said, according to FaithWire.
“And so she said, ‘We admire what you’re doing, but when you get to the point where you feel like you’ve exhausted all your resources, we will help you find a place to put him.’”
But they persevered, and soon, they found out they were pregnant. Kaitlyn was born, and she and Cornell became known as “the twins” — which was never an issue until one day when a child on the playground questioned that title.
“We’re literally about to go down the slide and (this little boy) stopped and said, ‘How is he your brother? He’s black,’” Kaitlyn recalled. “And I was like, ‘What do you mean? What do you mean he’s black?’ And yeah, so we had a conversation when we got home that night with my parents.”
Cornell flourished as a Cranham, though life certainly threw him curveballs. He had multiple surgeries to reconstruct his windpipe to allow him to breathe and talk on his own.
“He stared death right in the face and made the decision to live, like fighting harder than I’ve ever seen anybody fight,” John said. “And so I think that stays with him.”
Over and over again, Cornell proved his fighting spirit, even joining John at the age of 7 as John trained for the Ironman competition.
“And I kind of thought it would be when I was running around the neighborhood, but he literally ran, rode his bike almost every mile that I ran,” John recalled. “And so that was special. So when I did it and I finished, he was right there about the half-mile mark and ran in with me.”
John and Kim weren’t the only ones amazed by Cornell’s incorrigible positivity and determination to see the best in others.
John ended up writing a book called “The Cornell Effect,” describing their lives together and the profoundly beneficial effect Cornell has had on their family.
“Author John C. Cranham takes readers on a journey through darkness and gloom to a future of brightness and hope for one family,” the Amazon listing page for the book states.
“With courage, inspiration, and perseverance, the young couple set out on a quest to save a child, but the reality remains, the boy saved the Cranhams in the process.”
Now approaching age 30, Cornell helps with the family practice, drives his own car and has a message of grace and love to share.
“I always pray every single night and pray in the morning on my drive to work,” he said. “I just kept fighting; I didn’t want to die. I wanted to live, and I wanted to inspire other people and give them hope and grace and the love of Jesus.”