If we were voting for Mother of the Decade, I nominate Cori Salchert. What an honor for me to tell you about Cori on this Mother’s Day weekend. By the time you finish this blog, you may be voting for Cori too.

For more than two years, Cori Salchert cried out to God intently for the boy who joined her family at age 13. Cori prayed valiantly for Samuel’s terminally ill body to hold steady, for the young teen to know that he would always be loved.

The Salcherts officially adopted Samuel, then 15, on September 28, 2018. Two and a half weeks later, Cori leaned into Samuel at his bedside. She held his arm against her chest and hers rested over his heart. Tears cascaded down her cheeks as her prayers continued heavenward. Cori pleaded with God to ease her son into eternity.

The Salcherts chose Samuel’s name, which means, “God heard my prayers.” God heard their prayers for mercy that mid-October day. With mother and son gently nestled arm and arm, Samuel’s heart stopped. Cori was not losing her sweet boy but giving him to the one who would make it possible for their family to be together forever.

Caring for the Unwanted

Since 2012, Cori and her family have been taking care of unwanted hospice babies and children in their Sheboygan, Wisconsin, home. These young ones with life-limiting or fatal conditions come from families who cannot or will not care for them.

As a former hospice nurse and bereavement specialist, Cori finds that watching one of her ill foster or adopted children die is always heart-wrenching. But peace comes in knowing these precious ones pass on with her family present and not in the hospital alone.

Through her compassionate nurturing of critically ill children, Cori has garnered a deepened trust in God’s faithfulness. But this trust was jostled and frayed for more than 30 years after the death of Cori’s own disabled sister. As an infant, Amie suffered severe physical and mental challenges after contracting bacterial spinal meningitis. Amie was placed in a care facility years later, but tragically wandered off the institution grounds and drowned at age 11 in a nearby golf course pond.

Amie’s death nearly crushed Cori’s lifeline with the Lord. While Cori attended church and sang songs about God’s love and care, underneath it all she distanced herself from her Heavenly Father.

Questioning if God Can Be Trusted

“I’ve had a relationship with Jesus since I was a young girl, but there was a guarded corner in my mind and heart,” Cori, 58, shares. “For decades, I repeated these same words: ‘Lord, if you had been there, my sister would not have died.’ I felt God dropped the ball. I questioned if He was faithful and could be fully trusted. Finally, when I was in my late 40s, I asked God to redeem the loss of my sister and my doubting Him.”

That prayer was a breakthrough for Cori. God was up to something good redeeming the death of Amie and weaving a beautiful tapestry through the tattered threads of young lives considered medically hopeless.

Cori’s first five years in nursing included several roles in a hospital then home care/hospice. Cori took off 10 years to raise her eight children, five girls and three boys. In 2003, the seasoned mother returned to nursing and joined an area hospital’s obstetrics labor and delivery team as a bereavement specialist.

“I thought I’d go into the maternity ward where there is sweetness and light and not all my patients were dying hospice patients. But I found out quickly that not everybody who comes to OB leaves with a baby in their arms,” Cori explains.

Cori cared for patients whose baby had no heartbeat in the womb or who passed away during delivery. She dressed and blanketed the babies and comforted the grieving parents. Sometimes she loved on babies that lived but with severe medical challenges. Family after family, Cori let God’s comfort shine through her sensitive compassion.

Returning from the Sideline

In 2011, Cori’s autoimmune disease and several surgeries forced her on disability from her hospital work. Cori wrestled with God over His faithfulness. “I told God, ‘You’ve got to be kidding. I have all this nursing knowledge, and now I going to be home?’ Cori recalls.  ‘I see no beauty from these ashes of You knocking me out physically.’”

In her season of angst, feeling on the sideline from her nursing career, Cori got a call from the hospital about a baby born missing part of her brain and not expected to live past age two. The call came on August 20, 2012, sister Amie’s 43rdbirthday. Cori and Mark welcomed the ill newborn into their lives, adopting two-week-old Emmalyn. She lived only 50 days before dying in Cori’s arms.

“In all this, God started to show me the heart side of faith instead of just my head knowledge about Him,” Cori shares. “God took me through hell and back with my health before I trusted Him that He will make sense of tragedies in this world.”

Assisting with Daily Sibling Care

In total, Cori and Mark have cared for nine foster children, five of whom they adopted. Four of the beloved children are doing well and have been united with a birth parent(s) or adopted by another family. Three of the foster/adopted children have passed: Emmalyn, Nehemiah, and Samuel.

Charlie, age 9, and Kassidy, age 4, are still part of the Salchert family, receiving plenty of lotion massages, kisses, and hugs from their parents and the Salcherts’ biological children — all eight of them — who assist with daily sibling care.

Through every physical struggle for her special-needs children, and even her own pain, Cori has solidified her trust in God’s unfailing care. The closed-off and questioning part of her faith has blossomed into joyful reliance on God’s dependable character.

“I wanted to know that God is truly good and that He’s not mean and not tired and not too busy to care. God has allowed me to draw close. And I am assured that this life is not all there is,” Cori says. “We would be hopeless if God did not promise in the end that everything will be worked out for His greater glory. What He will do in eternity, I hold onto now. I don’t see the whole picture yet, but He does.”

Finding Hope and Healing

In working with hospice children, Cori has found God’s hope and healing. Even when the medically challenged kids do not survive. Cori experienced this with Samuel, her sweet T’Bear who was born with a rare condition that causes the brain to degenerate.

After caring for him for more than two and half years, Cori and Mark, encountered a custody roadblock with Samuel’s birth mother. For six weeks, they had to leave their dear T’Bear at the hospital without being able to visit.

After the courts terminated the birth mother’s parental rights, the Salcherts brought Samuel back home and soon adopted him. The local judge even came to their home for the adoption ceremony so fragile Samuel would not need to be transported to the courthouse.

Samuel was lovingly surrounded that day with family, friends, and members of the Sheboygan fire and local police departments. During the adoption service, Samuel was wide-eyed, and when the whole room broke into celebratory applause, he broke into a beaming smile. Samuel T’Bear Salchert was forever loved and he knew it.

Less than a month later, when Samuel’s 15 years of life ended, with Cori’s hand over his heart, God was still working His redemptive story. At T’Bear’s memorial service, his estranged birth mother, birth brother and several of their family surprisingly attended.

Standing before the casket, Cori and the birth mother leaned together, arm and arm at the waist, tearful over the loss of dear T’Bear.

“I think he just got tired,” Samuel’s birth mother whispered through her sobs to Cori. “Yes, I think so, too,” Cori gently added in agreement.

The teen who never spoke a word, spoke volumes to his birth and adoptive families and the Sheboygan community: even medically needy children have divine value and deserve tender-loving care. No matter how briefly their life unfolds.