Friendly faces in familiar places: Jennifer Cordes's life intertwines, art, faith and motherhood
Alexandrian describes and twists and turns on her path to becoming a mother
Jennifer Cordes, 41, found her passions to be doing ministry and caring for orphans, but she didn’t know how those would be incorporated in her life.
Getting married, having children of her own and doing mission work were all possibilities for her future path. While unconventional, she has combined all three in her home in Alexandria, where she and her husband, Jon, have lived for about four years.
“I just wanted to give my life for something that was going to outlast it, something that was going to impact the kingdom of God in a positive way,” she said. “I had no idea what I was created for, and I wanted to figure that out.”
After graduating from high school in Fargo, she spent one year doing full-time ministry through an organization in Illinois. During that experience, Cordes visited Mexico a few times and volunteered at an orphanage.
“That’s really where my heart was,” she said. “I wanted so badly to be with the babies that didn’t have anyone to hold them. From the very beginning, my heart was for the orphan.”
After that year of ministry, Cordes decided to attend Minnesota State University Moorhead and study drawing and painting.
“That’s where my gifting lied, so I felt like I needed to dive into that and hone that gift as much as I could,” she said.
Cordes was working part-time at a coffee shop when the owners announced they were planning to move on from the business. While she had six months left of school, they asked Cordes if she wanted to take over and offered to sell her all the equipment at a reasonable price.
“That last year of school is so intense, and I was running a coffee shop at the same time,” Cordes said. “I still think I’m crazy for that.”
She enjoyed the communal atmosphere, coffee making process and bakery tasks, but most of all, the opportunity to transform part of the coffee shop into her art studio. She worked on drawings and paintings out in the open for customers to observe.
“I really had to be vulnerable and let people see the process, even the ugly parts,” Cordes said. “It made my art business blossom in a way that it never could have otherwise.”
Although it helped increase her art commissions, Cordes decided to close the coffee shop after three years of operating it because the bills were becoming more of an issue and she couldn’t compete with another coffee shop opening across the street. Her building wasn’t zoned to accommodate a drive-through window, and there were only about five parking spaces outside.
Questioning her direction
Cordes continued her art from home, while her husband, Jon, transitioned away from construction and kicked off his stone business, where he designs fireplaces and building exteriors.
She found that her art sales were seasonal. There would be an uptick around Christmas and a slow period in the summer. Because of this ebb and flow, her husband’s business became their main source of income.
“My art became more or less a glorified hobby,” she said. “When I didn’t have the coffee shop to get the exposure, I wasn’t as busy.”
During this transition, Cordes kept thinking about her desire to pursue mission work and wondering how she ended up working on fireplaces instead.
What am I doing with my life? Aren’t I supposed to be working in an orphanage?
Since she had started doing artwork at live worship services, Cordes decided to find a way to give toward mission work while living in the Midwest. She sold her original paintings and prints and donated the funds toward building wells in India.
“I felt like I could still be a part of the mission field even though I’m here,” Cordes said. “I’m using the gifts God gave me to raise the funds to impact the mission field, so that’s the best I can do.”
‘Two children in heaven’
Around five years into her marriage, Cordes became pregnant.
She was thrilled at the news, as caring for children had always been on her heart.
But about a week later, she lost the baby.
The doctor said she most likely had endometriosis, a disorder that makes getting pregnant more difficult. And even when a woman with endometriosis does get pregnant, she usually can’t sustain the baby for the full nine-month term.
A month later, Cordes found out she was pregnant again. And again, she miscarried.
“That was really tough,” she said. “I was really thankful to know that I could get pregnant, but it was just devastating to know that even if I can, this keeps happening. My body just can’t seem to be able to carry a baby.”
Cordes said she had to remind herself of her desire to love on all babies and orphans, not just biological children.
“I don’t know the whole story,” she said. “But I do know I have two children in heaven now, and that’s the biggest thing.”
‘Already declaring life’
After her diagnosis and two miscarriages, multiple church congregants and pastors kept telling Cordes and her husband that they would have biological children of their own.
God, why do you keep teasing me? Cordes asked herself. What’s going on here?
At a conference she attended, a Californian pastor called her out from the crowd and said she would be healed of her infertility. Cordes had never met him before, and he didn’t know anything about her story. His wife prayed over Cordes, and the pastor said he expected to see her pregnant the next time he saw her.
“I hung onto that and just filed that away, but I also didn’t want to get my hopes up again,” Cordes said.
A few months later, she said she felt God wanted her to start praying over a future child.
She saw an image in her mind of an angel holding a baby’s head above the surface of the water, so she painted it on a large canvas, not knowing the significance it would one day hold.
Months later, after waking up one morning on vacation, Cordes’s husband rolled over and said he heard a voice while he was sleeping or dreaming that she was pregnant.
“I didn’t hear that voice,” Cordes responded. “That’s crazy, that’s impossible. I have no signs whatsoever.”
But when she got a pregnancy test, it came back positive.
“That was the biggest confirmation that God was in this,” Cordes said. “This baby was going to make it. God was in the first two babies too, but this was very specific. I was already declaring life over this child a year before that.”
Keeping the baby afloat
While Cordes was preparing for her baby’s gender reveal party, her amniotic fluid started leaking instead of her water breaking all at once.
After hospital tests, Cordes was told that more than 90% of women have their babies within two days of their water breaking.
She was admitted to bedrest and had to wait for her baby to be born, but the doctors said they couldn’t resuscitate the child. Their policy was any time after 23 weeks would be feasible, and Cordes was only at 21 weeks.
She asked if the due date could be off or if the weight was more than expected, anything for a glimmer of hope.
“At that moment, everything, my doctor, my body had betrayed me,” Cordes said. “I was hanging onto nothing, and then I realized all I had to hang onto was God’s word, his promise. And that’s actually a really good place to be.”
The contractions started the third day, but Cordes was determined to wait. She woke her husband up from the hospital couch in the middle of the night so he could pray with her. He sent a text out to all his contacts to pray, too.
About 5 a.m., her contractions stopped and didn’t return. Cordes had to stay flat on her back so the baby wouldn’t slip out, and she couldn’t sit up because of the lack of fluid to protect the child.
Her husband brought in the painting Cordes had made of the angel holding the baby’s head above water to remind her that the baby would be sustained.
Finding a fighter
Cordes made it four weeks beyond when her water broke, and she gave birth to her baby Ariyah at 25 weeks.
Doctors said that premature babies typically rely on a ventilator for a long time, but by the end of her first day, they realized Ariyah didn’t need it.
Ariyah was fed through a tube and hooked up to oxygen for four months in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit before Cordes and her husband could bring her home.
Within her first two years of life, Ariyah caught up and surpassed the average height and weight for her age group.
“She’s a strong, tall girl,” Cordes said of Ariyah, who is now 4. “Very strong personality, very strong-willed, but she had to be a fighter to survive, and she still is.”
Expanding her home
Cordes and her husband are now working on finishing off the loft and adding more rooms to their home to make space for more children.
They got a call in September, saying that a child, who is now 3, needed emergency foster care placement.
All Cordes had time to do was tidy up the house, and he was dropped off an hour after she found out. Training, home studies and paperwork have followed, as Cordes and her husband go through the foster care licensure process.
“That’s exactly where my heart was, but I thought I had to go overseas and work in an orphanage to reach those orphans,” Cordes said. “They’re right here in our community. They’re all around us. If we can open up our hearts and our homes, God can use us in some miraculous ways.”
This is a part of "Friendly faces in familiar places," an occasional series telling the stories of the unique people that make up the Douglas County community through writing, photo and video. To nominate an individual to profile for this series, email Jasmine at email@example.com.