Before she wed in 2004, Joy Dorothy Morris told her husband, Steven, she might never be able to conceive a child due to a variety of health issues growing up.
Instead, the newlyweds immersed themselves ministering to young people. Joy, then 24, had just started work as youth department secretary for the Assemblies of God North Carolina District. Steven already had served as college ministry pastor at Grace Community Assembly in Smithfield in the Tar Heel State.
“From the beginning, we were open to how God wanted to grow our family,” Joy says.
Two years into the marriage, Morris visited medical professionals and started fertility treatments. Those efforts continued until 2019, without fruition.
Meanwhile, the couple found fulfillment nurturing students. Steven worked as youth pastor at the church plant XRC in Clayton. Later, Steven worked as associate/youth pastor at Generation Church in Goldsboro and as associate/student ministries pastor at Epicenter Church in Fayetteville. At each location, the Morrises practiced the ministry of presence with teens, several of whom came from unstable homes.
Ultimately, the couple agreed to pursue adoption in 2013, just after Steven became the bivocational pastor at Life Church Eastover, in a town of 3,800 on the northeast outskirts of Fayetteville.
“We weren’t getting younger,” Joy recalls. “Nine years of waiting had taken a toll.”
Joy had learned lessons of patience during her struggle with fertility, drawing comfort from biblical accounts of women such as Sarah, Rachel, Rebekah, and Hannah — who all waited at length to become pregnant. Still, the couple trusted God would provide a child, even if Joy didn’t give birth physically.
Only two weeks after covenanting to adopt, the couple learned from a friend of a friend about the availability of a soon-to-be-born baby in Texas. Joy was in the hospital room for the birth and became the first person to hold newborn Nolan.
As Nolan proceeded through the toddler stage, Joy and Steven underwent training to become foster parents, providing respite care through Falcon Children’s Home. Through the agency, a birth mother who wanted to relinquish her baby selected the couple to be the infant’s permanent parents. In 2018, the Morrises adopted another newborn boy, Logan.
The first adoption cost the family $20,000, including attorney’s fees in two states and a lengthy stay Nolan had in a hospital neonatal intensive care unit. Christian friends and former students supplied the bulk of the funds.
Joy and Steven resolved to spend their retirement savings to make the second adoption happen. But then North Carolina District Superintendent Rick Ross stepped in.
At a district retreat, Ross presented the situation to ministers. They quickly raised the entire $11,000 necessary for the adoption to occur. It’s not the first time Ross has spearheaded such an effort. When he served as lead pastor at Multiply Church in Concord, Ross helped raise funds for staff pastor Jonathan I. Hernandez and his wife, Jessica Lee, to adopt twins. Hernandez is now lead pastor at Center City Church in Concord, which is in a parent-affiliated relationship with Multiply.
“When I see young couples who are willing to do whatever it takes to raise children in a godly environment, I want to help them,” says Ross, who also is an AG executive presbyter. “At the retreat, God supernaturally did so much more than we could imagine.”
In large part, Ross says the generous response stemmed from Joy’s longtime service to ministers in the district.
“Everyone knows Joy as the person behind the scenes who works very hard to make our events good,” Ross says. Yet he notes another factor in the emotional outpouring: the Holy Spirit prompting hearts.
“That’s part of who we are as Pentecostals — Spirit-led people,” Ross says.
By 2019, Joy ceased taking fertility injections. The couple chose not to pursue more expensive means such as in vitro fertilization. They rejoiced over being parents to Nolan and Logan, content with the apparent reality that they never would have a child naturally.
“If God had answered my prayers at 26, I wouldn’t have had the boys meant to be my sons,” Joy says. Nolan is now 6 and Logan 2.
In 2020, the couple had the shock of their lives.
After years of pregnancy tests with negative results, Joy miraculously had a positive outcome.
“God is funny,” Joy says. “I didn’t think I would give birth for the first time at 41.”
Although considered a high-risk pregnancy because of Joy’s age, Brenna came into the world Aug. 5, 2020, without complications.
“We’re still in shock,” says Morris, who has worked in the North Carolina District office for 17 years, and is now director of communications and events.
Throughout her marriage, Morris has been transparent about the inability to conceive and the cauldron of emotions that go with it.
“There is grief, loss, and disappointment for women who go through a long process of infertility,” Morris says. “The husband can’t be the dumping ground for a wife’s feelings, because he is working through issues of his own.”
Morris has encouraged other women struggling with prolonged seasons of barrenness, recommending they consider counseling as an outlet rather than merely keeping their feelings bottled up. She urges them to trust God through the process, whether or not they ever give birth.
“There are other ways to grow a family, although adoption is a calling and not for everyone,” Morris says. “Adoption should always be Plan A, not Plan B.”
She also exhorts women unable to conceive to not let that define them.
“If a woman isn’t able to reproduce, that doesn’t mean she is broken,” Morris says. “God has a purpose for women for the season in which they are waiting. It’s important not to press pause while waiting to become a mother and dream other dreams in the meantime.”