Let’s go back. When man and his wife made a mistake, God did not abandon them. So great was His love, that He began to walk with humanity, with His people, until the right moment came, and He made the highest expression of love – His own Son. And where did He send his son – to a palace? To a city? No. He sent him to a family. God sent him amid a family. And He could do this, because it was a family that had a truly open heart. The doors of their heart opened.

(Pope Francis, Festival of Families, September 26, 2015)

tessa 1Two and a half months ago, in the dim, dark hours of the early morning, my daughter burst forth into the world and made her home with my husband and me. A year ago, she didn’t even exist; she was merely a thought, a prayer, a hope our hearts, and today she is part of our family. Much of her early days with us remains a blur, an indistinguishable fog of eat/nap/change/bounce/sing/soothe/rock/etc., yet one particular memory stands out for me, forever etched upon my heart: bringing her through the door of our home for the very first time.

Ronald Rolheiser, in his “Spirituality of Parenting”, suggests that “to be a parent is to be formed in a school of love, [and] one of the first lessons this school teaches you is welcome.” Welcome home, little one, I said to her with a shaky voice and tear-filled eyes as I took her out of her carseat and carried her through the rooms of our one-bedroom apartment that warm August day. This is where we live. This is where you will sleep. These are your books. People who love you gave them to you. This is where we live. This is our home, and now it’s your home, too.

 And the doors of [my] heart opened.

erin and tessa

Erin and her daughter

The doors of my heart opened with love, but they open in pain and frustration, too. As any parent knows well, having a newborn isn’t always as idyllic as it looks in baby books or in the professional family photos some families have taken in their baby’s first days of life. A professor of mine once said that having a newborn is like having a very rude houseguest. Someone you don’t really know comes into your home, and they stay indefinitely, and they are very, very needy and demanding and don’t offer much help in return. Besides a few very, very short naps, our daughter screamed the entirety of her first day in our home, hungry and unable to figure out how to eat. It was heart-wrenching and headache-inducing and a rude awakening into the reality of parenthood. Welcome anyway, I thought. This is hard. I’m still so, so glad you’re here.

And the doors of [my] heart opened.

Pope Francis, in his impromptu speech at the Festival of Families last month, reminded us that God sent God’s son into the world through the context of a family – and that this was possible because this family had a truly open heart. The doors of their heart opened, he says. Their hearts opened and, if their experience of parenthood has been anything like mine so far, they kept opening, kept stretching further and further, kept being broken and pieced back together, capable of holding more than before, ever more supple and expansive and capable of extending love, hospitality, of holding pain.

My daughter stretches my heart, inviting me to allow it to expand, to grow bigger, over and over again, yet God asks that this heart-stretching not end at the one who made her home for nine months inside my womb. God’s reckless hospitality asks that the love that opens my heart to give welcome to my daughter spill forth to touch others – and as in so many things, my daughter is my greatest teacher on this journey. I walk with her nestled in a baby carrier down our street on sunny days, and the woman who has lived down the block for forty years, but with whom I’ve never stopped to chat, says hello and oohs and aahhs over the baby. The homeless men who linger outside our downtown church on Sunday mornings admire her; they say God bless your baby, and I stop to say good morning and to hear a bit of their stories. The elderly people at our parish, the cashier at the grocery store, even random people on the street – they smile when they see her, and I smile back. I slow down. I stop, even just a bit more, to listen. The “I’m-busy-leave-me-alone” look on my face, developed from three years of New England city living, softens a bit. The doors of [my] heart open.

The doors of their heart opened. May God continue to teach me, through this little life, the art of God’s loving hospitality. May my heart grow ever stronger, softer, bigger, more capable of giving welcome to others, especially the little ones, the poor, the vulnerable. And may we each rest in the hospitality and the welcome of God, knowing ourselves loved and cherished, undeservedly but wholeheartedly welcomed, like a newborn being carried into its home for the very first time.