Author Heather DeJesus Yates always dreamed of having a large family. But when infertility closed that door, would she still trust God? After several disappointing years, she and her husband were thrilled to become the adoptive parents of a beautiful baby girl. Would one child be enough to fill her heart? Yates tells how a visit to see her brother's family and their new baby brought her unexpected peace. Through an unassuming little succulent plant called a "Mother of Thousands," Heather came to realize that she, like this little barren plant, could still live a fruitful and productive life investing in the next generation.
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When infertility closed the door, Heather DeJesus Yates still trusted God with her dreams. Through a little plant, she realized that she could still live a fruitful life investing in the next generation.
Bob: The Bible says that sorrow may last for a night, but joy comes in the morning. In her journey of infertility and adoption, Heather DeJesus Yates has realized just how true that is.
Heather: Had I not wept bitterly, had I not poured out my anger, and my discontentment and my mistrust of God, had I not buckled over in my driveway and yelled like David and poured out the honest places of grief and discouragement with Him, and sat in the company with other women, who could say, “Yes, this is hard; this is heavy; this is really heavy,”—had I not had that experience, I would not be on this side with laughter and joy.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, September 30th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ll hear today from Heather DeJesus Yates about her vision for her life and the bigger vision God had for her. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. There is a word that is—we find it in the Bible—and it’s a word that we just don’t use very much because I think it’s such a hard, harsh, ugly-sounding word—
Dave: Oh, boy. This sounds like the fun broadcast, Bob. [Laughter]
Bob: It’s in the theme of what we’re talking about this week. It’s this word, “barren/barrenness”; I mean, just saying the word, it’s almost like you don’t want to say it out loud because the idea carries with it such an emptiness, a loss of hope, an ugliness.
How can we serve the God, who is the God over all things, and how can barrenness be a part of our experience or a part of our existence? Yet, for a lot of families/for a lot of husbands and wives, who have longed to have children, barrenness has been a part of their story. They’ve had to enter into that and go, “How do I meet God in this place?”
Dave: Yes; I think one of the worst things about that word is—it’s out of your hands. You can’t just like, “Oh, I’m going to make myself”—what’s the word?—“un-barren.”
Bob: You can’t fix it.
Dave: You can’t. Barren is like—it’s out of your hands, and you have to struggle through.
Bob: We’ve got Heather DeJesus Yates joining us this week to talk about all of this. Heather, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Heather: Thank you very much.
Bob: Heather is a—she is a mother; she is a wife. She has written a book called A Mother of Thousands. Tell our listeners about the title of that book. There’s a horticultural connection there; right? [Laughter]
Heather: Yes; the irony—because I kill plants like it’s my job. [Laughter] Well, when we were going through infertility, adoption, fostering, we had hit a point in our journey, where we’d even had some failed adoptions. We were expecting twin boys for a short time, and then that kind of fell through.
We left, actually, ironically, to go to Athens, Georgia, where my brother and his wife live. They were expecting a baby. They were actually expecting a baby the very night we were supposed to go pick up the twin boys, and we were waiting for the call. We got our call, and it went a different direction. We got our call from my sister-in-law, and she had the baby. Those are—those are always wonderful, little gut checks that Hebrews 12:15, “Be careful that no bitter root forms in there.” That’s such a danger, I think, in this journey for women—is to have those bitter roots form. I felt like God gave us that trip, immediately, to go to Athens to hold that baby/to keep no bitter root from forming in my heart.
We went down there; and prayed the whole way down there, and got there and got to love on my new little niece, got to play with my other niece—and see my little girl toddle around with her cousin—had a busy, hectic, crazy full house of fun for the whole day. Then my husband and I just collapsed in the bed in the guest room. As I was lying there, I just had this peace wash over me. It wasn’t just this exhaustion from being with a newborn—thinking, “Phew; yes, we don’t want another baby; we’re done,”—it wasn’t that at all; because there was so much joy, and there was so much sweetness. It wasn’t—you know?—“Now, I really know we want/I want to pursue again, because I want another newborn feel.” It wasn’t any of that; it was this soul calm.
I leaned over to my husband, and I said, “You know what? I think I’m good.” He just took this deep breath; and his chest just swelled up and came back down, and he said, “Good.” It was just this opportunity for both of us to just rest in where we were and not pursue any more and just be a family and enjoy where we were.
We went to sleep that night and I woke up, one eye at a time, thinking, “Am I grieving? Am I grieving that we just aren’t going to pursue any more children? Is this the end of something?” I was okay; I didn’t feel a lot of heavy emotion. He had already woken up; so I got out of the bed, and I clambered out to the kitchen. I was getting my coffee, and my brother is going on and on about these plants that he bought his wife.
He ends with this one sitting on this counter; he said, “Now, this is one of my favorites.” He said, “Look at the ends of it.” It looked kind of like—it is a cactus-like succulent. He said, “On all the edges of these branches, wherever this plant reaches out, these tiny, little baby plantlets form. The nursery guy said, ‘Be careful where you plant her because she will take over the yard. All these baby plantlets get heavy, and they drop to the ground, and they reproduce the same kind of plant.’” He said, “The cool thing is—she doesn’t bear seed of her own.”
Immediately, I felt like the Holy Spirit just woke me up to this vision and this joy; because I thought [emotion in voice], “That plant is a picture for me of the hope that I have that, even though I bear no seed of my own; that if you were to plant me, as God has planted me in His kingdom, and I root deep in who I am in Him, He will bear life. It can be revolutionary. We can change the landscape by just being faithful with God and Him planting us.”
As we plant, by faith, into the hearts and the soils of those around us—and we root deep with them in God’s Word/in His presence with us—He will bear life. It can be way beyond anything that I could have ever birthed biologically. That plant was called the Mother of Thousands. To have that picture, coming back from that vacation/from that trip of seeing that baby, God was faithful to us to guard against bitterness and to guard against self-pity—and to go into that deep place of: “Poor us that God would hold out from us but be good to other people,”—I think He gave it as a gift to protect us from that danger.
Bob: What I hear you expressing here is that biological birth motherhood is one expression of the life-giving that God calls a woman to—it’s a profound and powerful expression; maybe, the dominant expression of that—but it’s not the exclusive expression of that. Every woman is called to be a nurturer, a life-giver, a care-er of souls. That, for most wives, is going to look like being a biological mom; but for every wife—whether you’re a biological mom or not—there is a broader expression of what that means and how you can live that out.
Heather: Right. I go so far as to say a mother—because you look at a definition of what it means to be a mother, and it’s: “to birth, to raise up, to care affectionately, to be a woman of authority.” There is this place for every woman, in the kingdom of God, to step in and say, “In Christ, I have life; and it is unstoppable life. He has called me to bear fruit and multiply and fill the earth. This is something that we’ve been made to do.” It’s not unique to women; it is a calling to the believer.
If we have conceived of faith, and the gospel is implanted within us, we have the ability to reproduce faith. The church is multiplying because of the unstoppable nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is something that I would have missed, I think, had God not closed my womb. I think I would have missed the bigger story and the bigger opportunity here.
I’m not diminishing biological motherhood; I’m not. Would I rejoice if I found out we were expecting?—of course!—and not because “Oh, finally, I can be content.” No; I am fully content right now. You can have peace; you can be content, even when your world is not going the way you wanted it/even when things don’t look like the way you had scripted for yourself.
Ann: It’s interesting, too, Heather, as I hear you speak, Jesus and God are all over your language. He’s a part of you; He’s oozing out of everything in you; He is your life.
Heather: He is my life. I became a Christian kind of in a bit of a radical situation. I was ten years old, almost eleven. I had been exposed to quite a few destructive things in my early childhood—very difficult, painful situations for anyone, especially for a child. When I was ten or eleven years old/in that area, my mom dropped me off at our church. I wasn’t used to being around my peers; I was always wanting to be around my grandparents or older people, so I was very uncomfortable in this space.
Thankfully, the lights were down. I was just sitting on the edge; I already had my exit plan—I would go sit in the stall in the bathroom. By that age, I had already been exposed to pornography, and sexual assault, and other things; so I felt about myself, generally, that I was dirty. Church—I didn’t understand a lot of it; I had a lot of questions about it. The whole process of salvation, and justification, and sanctification—it all was just very confusing to me.
But this youth pastor—that night, he was sharing the gospel. At the end, he looked in the audience; and he said, “If any of you out there feel dirty tonight, Jesus can make you clean.” That was the only thing I understood. I understood dirty and clean, and I had tried to make myself clean in all my good works, and being a good kid, and good student, and doing everything right. Nothing was taking away that sense of dirty in the middle of my being.
When the lights went up, I ran like a four-legged girl down to the front of the altar to pray and find out, “How can this Jesus make me clean?” I found out that it was His blood and His sacrifice on a cross for me—that He conquered sin and death, He died and He rose again from the grave, and that resurrection made all the difference—that I was clean because He resurrected.
In my faith journey, I knew this was a major rescue; I had no business being in this kingdom/in this family. He has adopted me in the biggest way, and my life has really been one big thank-you card back to Him for that rescue.
Ann: Yet, you’ve had broken dreams.
Ann: And I think everyone has broken dreams. I know, when I gave my life to Jesus, I thought, “He’s going to make my life amazing, and I’m going to marry someone rich. I’m going to have this lifestyle.” Then it didn’t turn out like that.
Heather: Right; I have another book idea. The title is: God Has a Great Plan for Your Life; and the artwork is of Stephen, the martyr, being stoned to death. [Laughter] I don’t know if my publisher is going to go for it; I don’t think it’s going to sell well, but that is something that is really hard to grasp, as a believer.
Heather: But I thought that, when God’s got a great plan for my life—Jeremiah 29:11—that meant these things were going to go the way [I desired]. Here I was—a Christian woman—I was like: “I’ve done all the right things. We’ve waited for our spouses. We’ve”—you know, check the boxes—“We’ve worked in ministry,” “We’ve tithed all of our life,” “We go to Weekend to Remember®. [Laughter] Surely, we should have a baby; this baby will be amazing. I’ll leave it at the temple like Hannah did.” So, yes; we thought, “Now, isn’t this how God works?”
But He’s not a vending machine. He started out with a plan; He’s going to be faithful to the plan.
Ann: And it is so much better.
Heather: It’s better.
Ann: I had no idea that to become a pastor’s wife, to live in Detroit—if God would have painted that out to me, I would have thought—“That sounds terrible.”
Ann: Yet, it’s been the most—
Dave: And you just looked at me—[Laughter]—a bald pastor. [Laughter]
Ann: It has been the most amazing ride that I could ever imagine and hope for because, when we follow Him, we don’t know what’s around the next corner; but when we keep our eyes on Him, it becomes the most joy-filled journey. That impacts other people. When we can allow our pain to help other people get through their own pain, there is real meaning and purpose in that.
Heather: Yes; I will say that there was most certainly, in the middle of the journey of infertility, there was no joy. That was not a place of joy. There was no singing of songs—“God’s plan for me is better than my plan for me,”—no; I was not seeing that at all.
Ann: I don’t think any of us see it in the midst of it.
Heather: No; I think you make such a good point—is that this is a journey. A lot of the times, it is through the pain, when we don’t see God with us and being good to us, that we’re tested in that place to trust Him in the midst of the suffering/with us in the suffering. “In the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, [from Psalm 23]”—why?—“because You are with me. Your rod and your staff—they are going to comfort me.” It is a one-step-at-a-time comfort. It is not: “Oh, I’ve got all this great theology,” and “I’ve got all this faith in God. He’s going to gloriously make this into such a beautiful redemption story.” Well, yes, because He is faithful; but you don’t get there very quickly.
You need to be honest with where you are at, along the way, in order to have this sincere place of rejoicing and contentment; because had I not wept bitterly, had I not poured out my anger and my discontentment and my mistrust of God, had I not buckled over in my driveway and yelled like David and poured out the honest places of grief and discouragement with Him, and sat in the company of other women, who could say, “Yes; this is hard. This is hard; this is heavy; this is really heavy,”—had I not had that experience—I would not be on this side with laughter and joy. I would still be eating all the French fries. [Laughter]
It’s a Roman’s road. You’ve got to go through the pain of the curse before you can come into the redemption joy of the cross. That is true from the beginning, when God set everything up [in Eden], and we had this beautiful experience with God. We had all this true nature of God—goodness, just absolutely abundance, and beauty—“Man, this is what I want; this is the most amazing life.” It still wasn’t enough; and bringing in the curse on the earth, and us moving through the curse, and having to wait and wait and wait for the joy of redemption—I really feel like infertility is that picture. It is that picture of: “I feel the Garden; I feel the curse.”
Barrenness was associated with curse; and when you are in that place, and you cannot bear life, and you feel that longing within you—the Old Testament hints at the things that are never satisfied; one of them is a barren womb—there is something in us that wants to create life. We are made in the image of a Creator, who creates life; and that is written on our very nature to want to create life. So when you feel your nature hit the curse, and you feel that inability to create life in your body, you have to walk through that curse and see what God did to it; He redeemed it with a cross.
It’s that journey, for me, that I can’t imagine going through infertility without the hope of the cross/without resurrection—without that other symbol that you’re expecting/that symbol of life that He showed me. Yes; you get the positive sign on a pregnancy test, but it’s the same sign that gives me hope that I have life within me—it’s the cross.
Dave: Do you ever find yourself go back? I mean, you’ve—you’re at a place now, sounds like, and you wrote about—you’ve got perspective; you’ve been through that journey. Seems like a valley, and you’re sort of out of it. Do you ever find yourself lying in bed at night, or in a quiet moment of regret, or going back to the pit?—just wondering, “If that ever happens”—and if your mind starts to go there—“what do you do?” I’m thinking a lot of people might struggle: “I’m over here now, but…”
Heather: Well, I look down at my hand; I still have skin, so I do—
Heather: —I still have struggles, and I’ll still go back there. I think I always will. Again, the barren womb will always long/it will always cry out. There are times—we have an adoption story—and that means there are complex dynamics in our story that are permanent. They are just etched now into our story, and God says it’s good. Sometimes, I just have to trust Him—
Heather: —that that is good; because sometimes, it doesn’t feel good. It’s a reminder to me, “Oh, yes, I didn’t give birth to my little girl.” It takes me back to some of that pain of sorrow/of really saying, “God, sometimes, I wish I could just shove her in my belly and I do this over, and take some vectors out of our story.”
I come back with those open hands again and surrender: “That when you say You work all things together for good, You work all kinds of not-good things that don’t taste or feel very good on their own, and you will move them in some mysterious way together to where, all together, they will work out to be this good thing—good for me, good you, good for the body, good for the bigger story that You’re telling.”
Dave: I know that, when I saw your book title, I had no idea about this plant—because I don’t know anything about plants—but I had this thought, and then as I read to the end, where you talk about our destiny, I’m like, “Oh, there it is”; because when I saw Mother of Thousands, I thought, “I’m actually called to be a father of thousands,”—
Dave: —and “We’re all called, whether we have biological children or not. We can, as you said, ‘Plant small, root deep, bear life—
Dave: —“’because of Christ in us.’” What a beautiful picture of the destiny, and the call, and the mission of every Christ-follower.
Heather: Well, you look at Sarah and Abraham’s story. I identify so well with her—and her grief, and her frustration, and the tension it created in her marriage—and I put in the book just some flesh around Sarah. I can’t wait to sit with her and say, “Tell me the truth; what happened?” When I look at her story, and I see what God did, God gave them a promise of destiny by faith.
His descendants—it wasn’t so much about their biology—it is about the faith. They were going to be a mother and father of the faith—the kingdom of God was going to be built by faith; I mean, this was a game-changer. This was a huge paradigm shift. The Hebrews—they were all about lineage and genetics. The kingdom of heaven—genetics are just not going to be a big deal, you know, when we move into that new season of life.
That was a game-changer for me when I realized the big story that God was wanting to tell was one of faith—that they were going to become father of many nations/mother of thousands—that this was going to be about faith. If I keep my head buried in this little story, and I stay consumed in my own grief and on my own pain, I may miss the most amazing story that God could ever tell in my life; so I don’t want to do that. “Lord, You write the story; You write the script. I’ll go where You go. You promise to never leave me no matter where we go.” That, ultimately, is what I want; I want to stay connected to Him.
Ann: I love your subtitle, From Barren to Revolutionary; because that resonates with my heart: “I want to change the world.” I think you are revolutionary.
Heather: Well, we’re redefining motherhood, one soul-talk shared with another teenage girl or woman, across the table, at a time. I even created a little t-shirt for our book launch. It defines motherhood as “The state of being a woman, who shows up to the next generation, trusting God to build His family through her.”
Ann: Will you pray for other women? We need your prayer.
Father, God, we thank You that we have direct access to talk to You about all the things of our hearts, thanks to Your Son Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for us. Father, we also thank You that we don’t call You adoptive Father. We just call You, “Daddy,” because there is no distinguishing between us and Your Son Jesus. We are co-heirs to You; we are all Your children now. You have paid for us; You have bought us; and You chose us because it was Your delight to choose us.
So Father, in this secure place as Your children, we ask for You to bless the wombs of Your children, and not just the physical ones. Father, we pray that You would open the eyes of the blind to see the stories that You are telling in these marriages—that, Father, where they are struggling in these stories of barrenness, of miscarriage, of broken dreams—Father, we pray that You would help them to see Your resurrection. Help them to put their hope in the only place that is secure: it’s in Your plan, and Your faithfulness, and Your character as good.
Father, we thank You that the work that You’ve begun in them You are going to finish it. Father, if it is Your will for them to bear children, biologically, thank You; thank You that You will see that through. Father, if it’s not, we pray that they would be free from consumption of these small stories and that their eyes would be lifted up to look around to see the world that You’ve given them. Father, we pray that they would be fruitful and multiply/that they would show up to the next generation, trusting You will build Your family through them. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.
Bob: Heather, thank you for being on FamilyLife Today. Thanks for being here and sharing with us.
Heather: Thank you.
Bob: Let me say to our listeners: “We would love to send you a copy of Heather’s book. The book is called A Mother of Thousands: From Barren to Revolutionary. We’re making it available this week to any of you who can support the work of FamilyLife Today. If you have a desire to invest in the marriages and the families of hundreds of thousands of people every day, all around the world, by investing in the work of FamilyLife Today, we’d love to have you join the team; and we’d love to bless you with a copy of Heather’s book.”
FamilyLife® exists to effectively develop godly marriages and families. We believe godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time. So we want to encourage to be a part of the team that makes FamilyLife Today available in your community and online, on our mobile app, through all the channels where FamilyLife Today can be heard. Help make that happen by making a donation today. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation, and be sure to ask for your copy of the book, A Mother of Thousands: From Barren to Revolutionary, by Heather DeJesus Yates when you make your donation. Thanks, in advance, for joining with us; and we hope you enjoy the book.
We hope you can be with us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about how a wife should respond when her husband just won’t take initiative/won’t lead when he’s passive. We’ll have that conversation tomorrow. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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