South Louisiana is a place saturated with heat, mosquitoes, and sensational food. There is always a reason to celebrate something—whether it is a birthday or a Little League championship. The whole state takes pride in finding joy in every little thing. The days are long and the company is usually family. Growing up with family is not unique, but growing up in a huge family certainly is—even in South Louisiana.
My mother is the oldest of ten children and their family is anchored in South Louisiana. I spent many summers and countless holidays running around and climbing magnolia trees with my cousins. If I am asked how many cousins I have, I proudly announce, “I am the sixth oldest of fifty-eight grandchildren!”And then I pause and wait.There is always a reaction. Sometimes there is a gasp of disbelief, but often there is repetition: “Fifty-eight grandchildren?!?!” My favorite follow-up question is always, “Do you know all of their names?” My face instantly lights up as I exclaim that I do. I love that I do know all of their names.
In addition, those fifty-eight grandchildren (only half of whom are married) have already made eighty great-grandchildren! My family has definitely embraced the command from Genesis to “Be fruitful and multiply”. The pride I feel about being from such a massive family is as big as a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Every time I encounter my cousins it is a celebration of life. There is laughter, dancing, eating, and loads of sarcasm. But it is the love exchanged between each member that is invigorating.
When I am personally sharing about my huge family I cringe when I am asked, “So how many kids do you have?” Since I was just bragging about my large family, it makes sense to follow up with a question that requires a numerical answer. The curiosity is valid. The truth is, I have not contributed in a great way to the number of children in my extended family’s tree. I definitely feel shame about that. Nevertheless, by the grace of God, I have been blessed with two children.
The vision I had for my family was a nice biblical number. Personally, I felt having five kids would be ideal, because then we would be a total of seven. There was something romantic about having the number in our family equal to the definition of a covenant. It was in high school that I learned that a covenant or oath translated “to seven oneself” with the Lord. That image of the power of seven really stayed with me. I hung on to the dream of having such a full house for a long time.
Finally, at thirty-six years old, I had come to terms that I would not be the mother of five. My dreams had adjusted and my expectations had lessened about the final size of my family. The prayer of acceptance had ultimately pierced my heart. I recognized that we would be a family of five–two parents and three kids. We had two kids; now we just needed to add the third and all would be complete.
Doctor visits and medical procedures are as numerous for me as mosquitoes in Louisiana. I always describe my medical history as long and complex. Therefore, when I found myself at thirty-six in various waiting rooms, I was filled with anticipation. At the time my medical team consisted of eight doctors. Each physician was a specialist that had to give their approval for me to proceed with attempting pregnancy so that we could have a third and final child. This particular time in my life was the strongest my health had ever been. I was 36, and I had nothing but hope that I would be pregnant before I was thirty-seven. It was in my hematologist’s office that my dream of holding another newborn was utterly shattered. I was there for a follow-up about my most recent iron infusion, a routine procedure for me. As my doctor was explaining my dismal test results he paused and asked, “Have you always eaten Altoids?” I was confused. His comment seemed so random and disconnected from the concerning information he was relaying to me. He must have seen the confusion on my face because he repeated his question and pointed at the box of “curiously strong mints” in my hand. My face turned as red as a late-afternoon sun setting behind the trees and the heat I felt was as warm as a Louisiana summer day. I was chomping on four Altoids as I struggled to open my mouth and say, “Only the last eighteen months. I believe it’s a transfer of addiction that I had to food. Now I chew these mints all day instead of eating.”
The doctor set down the reports he had been meticulously reading aloud to me, pulled up a chair, and said, “Mrs. Harrison, you have pica. You are not retaining the iron we are pumping into your veins. You are so iron-deficient that I don’t even know how you made it all the way here into my office from your car ! You are going to need a hysterectomy to solve the concerning medical issues we have been trying to fix for these last few years. You have the perfect storm of multiple medical anomalies working against you.”
I felt as if I had been running with my cousins and just fallen on the humid concrete, scraping both my knees. I fought hard not to cry the tears that rushed to my eyes. The sting took my breath away. How in the world does a faithful Catholic woman at thirty-six hear that she is to completely lose her fertility? The sacrifice seemed unbearable. The punishment seemed to me to be a permanent Lent. Having to live every day on a fertility fast seemed cruel. The dream of a family of five dwindled to only four. It was as if I was doomed to walk the streets after a parade, my surroundings littered with debris and broken Mardi Gras beads no one wanted to bring home.
It never once entered my consciousness that there would be anything resurrected from my perpetual Lent. At thirty-seven, instead of delivering a new life into the world, I gave over the instrument that brought forth new life, my womb. What I didn’t foresee was how God would flourish in the space that once held my womb. He filled my existence with new life in ways I had never considered.
The love I have been gifted by my enormous family now lives on through my work in ministry as a speaker, conference creator, and women and young adults. The love I had hoped to pour into one soul has been multiplied by thousands, just like in the story of the loaves and fishes. God is never finished with us, even when we fail to see how else we can be useful. Because God realizes that the resurrection comes after the Lenten fast.
Liv is a professional speaker and emcee with a gift for humor, storytelling and wisdom. She works with youth from junior high to young adult, including work in marriage ministry. Liv has been featured on EWTN, Forte Catholic, Sirius XM, and various other podcast programs, and is currently serving the Junior League of The Woodlands as an active leader who often speaks to the 500 members. In May 2019 she successfully wrote and launched the Genius Catholic Women’s Conference (geniuswomensconference.com) outside of Austin, TX, which will happen again this March in Dallas. Finally, she is married to her high school sweetheart and is a devoted mother of two.