Jani Ortlund: Welcome everyone. We’re so glad you joined us today. It’s Jani Ortlund here with our co-host Heidi Howerton. Today we have a special treat. We have a third person with us here in our studio at Heidi’s farmhouse.
Our special guest: Jennifer Cortez 00:31
Heidi Howerton: As you know, we’re doing a series on how to love the children in our lives and how to show them Christ. Jani and I thought it would be a wonderful idea today to bring in another voice. One of our dear friends, Jennifer Cortez, has so much wisdom in this area as she’s raised her four children and God has walked her through different seasons of life. So we are so excited to have her with us today.
Jennifer Cortez: Hi everybody.
Jani: We’re so glad you’re here, Jennifer, thanks for coming.
Jennifer: Thank you for having me.
Jani: Heidi, why don’t you and I just share a little bit about why we would invite Jennifer and what we admire about her. Would you like to start? I’m ready, but go ahead.
Heidi: You can start, Jani.
Jani: Well, I’ve known Jennifer for…how old is Jacob?
Jani: Thirteen…I met you when Jacob was a baby.
Jennifer: That’s right.
Jani: So I’ve known you for thirteen years and through those years I have seen Jennifer Cortez go through hard stuff and you’ve clung to the Lord, and you’ve stayed strong and steady with him. You’ve been a faithful follower of Christ, and I want our listeners to get to know that about you. Another thing I admire about you is that you serve so many people. Our listeners will find out about that on our podcasts where you’re our guest, but you’re a member of Renewal Ministries Board. You’re one of the women who makes this podcast possible. So all of our listeners, and Heidi and I, thank you.
Jennifer: It’s my pleasure to do that.
A little bit about Jennifer 2:03
Heidi: You guys, what a treat it is for us to be here with Jennifer Cortez today. Her and Jani and me, we all attend church at Immanuel Nashville together and I have had such a privilege of knowing Jennifer over the last few years. She is a mom of four and pours herself out to her kids. And as Jani mentioned, she pours herself out to others too. She brings so much wisdom to the table. I have learned so much from her the past few years and really look up to her as a mom and as a writer and as someone that also loves to disciple other women.
Jani: Thank you for being here, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Oh, it’s my great privilege. I love both of you so much. I don’t feel worthy of these things you’re saying, but I thank you for them and I hope to talk a lot about all the mistakes I’ve made. I think that’s where I can really speak.
Jani: Would you start by telling us about your family and your life?
Jennifer: Sure. I have a wonderful husband named Daniel. He is an attorney. We live here in Nashville. We’ve been married 21 years, and we have four children: three boys ages 19, 17 and 13 and then one little girl who’s 4 (because why wouldn’t you do that?). So we just have a house full! When we bought that house, it felt large. And now it’s feels really small. But we love it.
What it’s like to have a baby in your 40s 3:28
Jani: Well, I’m counting up here. If there are 15 years between Sam, your eldest and Evelyn, your baby, that means you had Evelyn later on in life?
Jennifer: One could say, yes. I was almost 41, ten days shy of 41 when I had her.
Jani: Oh my goodness! Would you share with Heidi and me and our listeners, what it’s like to have a baby in your forties?
Jennifer: I will. Well, I can speak for myself only, obviously, because I’m sure lots of women have different stories than mine, but she has been such a joy and an answer to prayer for us, and such a gift to us. We have three boys and we wanted four children and we had several miscarriages after Jacob. And I thought maybe that was the Lord’s end of the story for us. It was very hard. Anyone who’s experienced a miscarriage, you know, it takes a lot of time to work up your courage to try again. And then if you have another one, it’s just very painful. So to have her here, and our only little girl, has just been a real gift to us. So having said that, I will say that I’m more tired with her than I was with the with the boys I think. It’s challenging to navigate their schedules and have a little one because they’re in college, one’s leaving for college, one is starting to apply for college and another is in middle school; and I sort of thought it would transport me back to those younger years, but it didn’t really, it just gave me a baby to go along with all the things I was already doing! So it was challenging in that way, but she’s brought so much joy to our lives.
Jani: And to many other lives.
What it’s like to have a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder 5:18
Heidi: Jen, can you tell us a little bit more about your other kids now that you’ve told us about sweet Evelyn? Sure. I’de love to. Well, our boys are wonderful. They’re all really different from one another. And our third son, Jacob, who’s 13, he has Autism Spectrum Disorder. So that’s been a very challenging circumstance in our family to learn how to parent him, what he needs, how to love him well and I’ll say that a lot of the parenting advice that I had been given in the first years of mothering did not work at all with Jacob. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect.
Jani: Oh, that is so interesting. Do any examples come to mind? I’m sorry to put you on the spot.
Jennifer: Yes well, I guess generally speaking, with Jacob, he is easily threatened. He feels like any assertion of authority is a threat. And so you can see how that would be really challenging because as a parent, your job is to maintain order in the home, to maintain that authority in the home, and that’s a God-given role that is important and necessary. But then you have a little person who feels like you’re attacking him whenever you impose any sort of restriction on him. And then he responds with a fight response.
Heidi: So Jen, how did the Lord show you what was going on and what has he taught you guys since that point, too?
Jennifer: Oh my goodness, that’s 13 year’s worth of an answer, isn’t it? Well, for the first three to four years of Jacob’s life, I can’t overstate how hard it was for him, especially looking back now. I just have so much compassion for him not knowing at the time what was going on. I thought for so long, well, if I just escalate the punishment he’s going to submit and realize what I’m trying to teach him here. Daniel and I both thought that because that’s how we had parented Samuel and Joshua and they responded really well to our discipline and fell right in line. So it was confusing and hard. And I just kept thinking, “I’m a terrible mom, I’m a terrible mom. I’m not doing this right.” So there was a lot of chaos in our home. So you would see us at church on Sunday mornings and we probably looked put together for the most part, but inside the walls of our home, it was really hard. There was a lot of chaos, there was a lot of conflict, and so it was really difficult.
Jani: Did it ever come between you and Daniel? Would there come times when you would say, “Honey, this is what I really believe we need to do?” And Daniel would say, “I don’t agree with that?” or…
Jennifer: It has been challenging to navigate that. That’s a great question, Jani, but I’m blessed to have a husband who really does listen to me and respects the fact that I’m the one on the ground. I’m the boots on the ground, day in and day out, while he’s at work. I’m the one talking to all the therapists and reading all of the books; so he gives a lot of weight to that. But there have been times where I’ve had to just bite my tongue and talk with him later because our parenting styles are different. And then there have been times where he’s had to tell me, “I really think you’re letting too much go here and we need to draw a line and it’s okay for Jacob to get angry sometimes.” So we have had to cling to the Lord because there really hasn’t been any sort of manual for us to follow.
Advice for other moms 9:02
Jani: So for some of our moms who are listening, who suspect or know that one of their children is on the spectrum, could you give them a word of advice for their marriage, how to walk through their marriage?
Jennifer: Yes. I think the first thing I would say is to prayerfully commit to making your marriage your priority and trust that the Lord will help you work through those differences rather than sabotaging one another. We really do lean on each other and respect each other. And so I would say first, is the mindset that my husband is my priority here and if this crumbles, then we’re really in trouble – Jacob’s really in trouble. There is a really high rate of divorce among families of children with disabilities because it is so stressful and so difficult. And so, I’m just speaking in my circumstance here, but we have just decided to take it as a team and have had to also think of it as a long game. Each of us walks with the Lord individually and we pray through things together. We pray through, which doctor Jacob needs, what medications he should be on, if any, and we talk through all of those things together and really just decide to remain on the same team.
Heidi: Do you have an encouragement? What would you say to a mom whose child just got diagnosed with any type of special need or disability and who’s thinking “this isn’t how I expected my life to go” and who’s fearful of the future?
Jennifer: I just keep saying cling to the Lord. I know that sounds like a pat answer, but in practice it’s rich, deep, and agonizing. I mean, we know how it’s easy to say something and then to live it out as a different thing but to her I would say, “You can trust him. He knows what your child needs.” I have a dear friend right now who’s college age student has had to come home from college and is now getting inpatient help. She’s just right in the thick of a diagnosis of some anxiety and there are some things that they are still unsure of. They’re not really sure what’s going on with him but I think of her and I just say, “Trust the Lord. He knows; he’s got you.” And I don’t give a lot of specific advice. I just encourage them to cling to him.
How can friends come alongside you? 11:42
Heidi: What about as friends? What are ways that we can encourage or love on our other friends that have children with special needs?
Jennifer: Oh that is a great question. I have good answers because I have good friends who’ve done it well, so I can tell you. And, the two of you, you’re two of them. Jani has dropped meals off at my house when I’ve needed them without me asking because I don’t think I’ll ever ask, “Can someone bring me a meal?” It just doesn’t occur to me to ask, but to have a friend say, “I have a meal for you,” or “Can I bring a basket of goodies…a candle?” Also, prayers, texting prayers, setting aside a day of the week to pray for our family, writing letters, providing date nights for the mom and dad.
Jennifer: Really what you need is someone to come along and encourage you because no one can step into that role and bear all of that for you, except the Lord. He does bear it for me and with me. But prayer, date nights, gifts, meals, listening, asking questions and really supporting and encouraging a mom in what she’s figuring out. Because so many people have opinions about, “Oh, you just need to get on a gluten free diet, or, oh, you shouldn’t just give your child this medicine…” or, “Oh, you should never give your child this medicine or you need to see this doctor or you need to stick with natural remedies…” or, “You need therapy…” or “Stay away from therapy because those people don’t know what they’re talking about and they’re going to…” You know what I mean?
Heidi: That sounds overwhelming.
Jennifer: You receive a lot of that. So I would just say, avoid those things and just encourage, support, and pray.
Jani: Don’t give advice…
Jennifer: …unless she asks.
Jani: …unless when asked.That’s so good Jen, oh my. This is really helpful.
Are you able to get out on a date? 13:29
Jani: I have one question before we close. Are you able to get out on a date? Is a child on the spectrum able to be cared for by a grandparent or a babysitter, or are you pretty much homebound in your situation?
Jennifer: That’s a good question. I now am not homebound, but of course levels of disability vary a lot. When Jacob was a toddler, our parents could handle him. But one of the difficulties is you do tend to isolate yourselves because Jacob can’t just run out in the neighborhood gang of friends because conflicts arise and difficulties arise. So it just depends on each child in that family. But for us, I will also say, going back to Heidi’s question about what can you tell a mom who’s just gotten this diagnosis, I have a lot of encouragement for her because Jacob was diagnosed when he was five and he’s now 13. In those eight years, he has grown so much and he’s made so much progress and our whole family has grown in ways we never would have if all of us had been Neurotypical. We’ve learned compassion, we’ve learned…
What is “Neurotypical” mean? 14:53
Jani: Wait a minute, that’s a wonderful word: “Neurotypical”. Could you define that for someone ignorant about that, like I am?
Jennifer: Yes. Well, it’s just a way of saying your brain is a more typical brain. So you’re in the majority of the types of brains, but there are different kinds of brains. We call that Neurodiversity. We could talk for days about all of this. So Jacob’s brain is not your typical brain. So we have to treat him in a way that’s different than I would treat someone who has a typical brain. So, I don’t remember where I was going.
Jani: Well, that’s my fault.
Heidi: You were talking about how the Lord has blessed your family in so many different ways with having a child who’s not Neurotypical. I just love that not everyone is Neurotypical. That’s so encouraging.
Jennifer: So much beauty has come from these eight years, alot of it through hard, hard days of crying in the bathroom. Sometimes I’ve gotten in my van and driven around my neighborhood and just scream-cried. Have you ever scream-cried?
Heidi: I call them “angry runs” when I’m struggling with something and I go on a run and I just cry.
Jennifer: Sometimes I just need to be loud and let it out, but I can’t do it around children, so I get in my van and drive. I’m saying it in a nice neat way, but how we have gained this beauty has been very difficult. But there’s so much that has come from it that’s been good. My older boys are learning so many things about how to love people who are different from them and how to encourage one another.
Heidi: What I’ve seen and loved, is that you’re such an advocate for all of your kids. It’s not just all about Jacob and it’s not just all about the other kids. But especially with Jacob, I’ve seen you really study him and learn about him and talk to different people; and he’s thriving in so many ways right now, Jen, because of all the hard work you’ve been willing to put in and also all the prayers that you’ve been willing to pray and ask the Lord for wisdom.
Jennifer: Well, thank you for that. I just give the Lord credit for all of that. I do work hard as a mom, as I know we moms do, but it’s really been his grace and goodness to make all those things possible.
A Prayer for all Moms out there 17:03
Jani: Oh, we thank you so much for opening your heart on that and we want to carry on into some more podcasts, but we need to close for now. And Jennifer, I wonder if I could ask you, would you be willing to pray for the moms who have children with special needs right now who might be listening?
Jennifer: I would love to, yes. “Lord Jesus, thank you for this privilege to come before your throne with my dear friends, Jani and Heidi, and to lift up all those parents and especially moms who are caring for children who are not typical. You know the difficulty and the challenges that are inherent in that and and you are more than able to equip them in every way for their specific children. I pray that you would teach them how tender your love for them is and that you would surround them with supportive friends and doctors and therapists and counselors who can advise them. Lord, I pray that you would be a very near and felt comfort to each of them and show them with wisdom of what they need to know to love their children well. We thank you Lord, and I ask for your blessing on each of them and their marriages and their other children and their grandchildren to come. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.”