When my husband and I purchased our first home last year—a single-family colonial in an idyllic planned community—we were excited to decorate indoors and out for each season, welcoming the blooms of spring and the warm tones of fall as enthusiastically as the traditional Christmas decor. Our families had done so during our childhoods, though none more so than our maternal grandmothers, so we felt drawn to do the same in our new home. To us, decorating became an act of embracing and celebrating the current season, regardless of the circumstances—an especially helpful practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the circumstances around us were less than joyful.
One particularly endearing quality of our new home is its porch: elevated by a few steps, enclosed by white picket railings, and furnished with two neatly placed patio chairs and a small table in black to match the shutters. The stairs are sizable, wide enough for staggered potted plants in warm seasons and poinsettias in the winter, and have crisp white pillars begging for wrappings of Christmas lights. Our dog can spend hours lying on the top step, paws hanging over the edge, watching joggers, strollers, and the occasional car go by. Suffice it to say that the porch has become a cherished spot for all residents of this home, a place where we greet passing neighbors, welcome visitors, and simply survey our domain while soaking up the good life.
Now that we have lived through each season in this home, I can confidently say that decorating the porch—especially in autumn—has become a spiritual practice for me. Knowing that this spot is the first thing visitors see, whether they are our families approaching by car or our new neighborhood friends walking up for an evening chat, inspires me to make it a welcoming space that reflects the warmth of the house’s residents. Anyone who draws near should feel drawn in.
Living in this house at a time when we could not enter our parish buildings because of the pandemic, I often found myself reflecting on how churches prepare for each season—liturgical and chronological. I remembered the altar guilds and other volunteer groups that place flower arrangements lovingly at the foot of the altar and other statues, that turn over accessories based on liturgical season, that gently prepare spaces for Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and parish feasts. How beautiful is the ritual of making sacred space, of carefully placing each item with purpose so as to draw the eyes upward and deeper. Using beauty as a way to enter into reflection on the divine is one of the most gorgeous practices of the church.
Similarly, while tending our porch I found myself reflecting on the future and, sometimes unconsciously, entering into prayer. When rearranging chrysanthemums for balance and symmetry, I thought of future visitors coming for dinner parties and asked the Holy Spirit to help us build a community in this new place. As my husband and I wrangled strands of lights for our roof line and shrubbery, I reflected on our parents and grandparents, feeling connected to the generations that have gone before and praying for their intercession as my husband and I grow our family. When sipping iced coffee before beginning a big day of yard work loving a neglected property back to life, I uttered a silent prayer of gratitude for the ability to afford a home, for the safety of a roof over our heads, and for a partnership built on a solid foundation.
The analogy of my porch decorations and prayer life became almost too intertwined in the fall of 2021. After a very successful inaugural autumn in our home, I was excited to reprise my autumnal porch. Because we bought our home during the pandemic but before vaccines, many observed our new home from a safe outdoor distance, making the porch the star. However, this past autumn was rife with aggressive weather changes that caused my allergies to rage and every mum that graced my porch to die. After spending days selecting mums for size, shape, and color and carefully arranging and rearranging them to provide an optimal, abundant welcome for guests, I was devastated when they made it only a couple of weeks before looking like an “after” picture of a tropical depression. By the end of October, I accepted defeat: I had failed in my exterior hospitality this season and wanted it to end quickly. I was prepared to accept loss until Christmas, when I could start anew.
There was one problem: Our home is at the heart of a planned community, with over 250 homes that take each season seriously but have no higher holy day than Halloween. Families come from the surrounding towns and counties to trick-or-treat at close-together homes decked out for the season. Neighbors set up bonfires, popcorn and hot dog machines, and candy aplenty. (We were warned the first week we lived here—in June—that we should be buying pounds of Halloween candy.) Needless to say, a porch covered with dead mums would be a haunting image on the big night. More personally, my husband loves a theme and a seasonal celebration. Halloween, his least favorite holiday, had become one of his favorites since we’ve lived here, and he was excited to go all out: He had purchased almost 40 pounds of candy at Costco, mapped chair placement for optimal costume viewing, and coated our porch in twinkling orange lights to point trick-or-treaters to our house. He was modeling the joyful anticipation of Advent, still months away, and I had accepted defeat in the here and now. Suddenly, how I imagined the sacredness of our welcoming space and my role in caring for it turned.
On the eve of Halloween, I rushed around our “small city with a big heart” and the surrounding towns, seeking out every mum remnant and decorative pumpkin I could find. At the end of October in New England, you can imagine that the pickings were slim. Let’s just say I called on all of my favorite heavenly intercessors for help! I was able to find some very small yet fully bloomed mums to bring my porch back to glory and a medley of gourds to fill the gaps. I blasted dirt remnants with the leaf blower and methodically turned each plant to look as full as possible despite its size. Calling up my husband from yard work in the backyard, I beamed with pride as his eyes lit up at the sight of brightness and cheer restored.
Neighbors approached to compliment the explosive colors and share how fondly they have noticed us caring for our house since moving in. Some shared that they never turned their outdoor lights on or decorated their own porches for the season, but seeing how much life had been brought to our property inspired them. Our welcoming exterior is critical to our community and to our role in it. No matter what the seasons bring, I will no longer take for granted the sacred nature of creating welcome at our home.