House + Love = Home
The Porch Swing
Our older daughter, Sylvie, is adopted. Her birth country is in central Africa and her journey into our family was tumultuous to say the least. Dave and I had to fight bureaucracy, red tape, and political posturing for two very long, very hard years to bring her home. During the wait, I spent countless hours sitting on our front porch swing, praying for her health and safety and for the miracle to take place that would finally bring her home to us.
Our porch swing was the site of every photograph that marked an important milestone during those difficult years of waiting. We have a photo of her brothers sitting on the swing, holding a sign announcing Sylvie’s adoption, which we shared with the wider circles of our families.
A year or so later, Sylvie had still not reached us. Another photo: her brothers sitting on the swing, holding up a photo of her in Africa alongside an ultrasound photo of the joyful, albeit unexpected, pregnancy of her soon-to-arrive younger sister. Only three years old then, Nate and Ben were so excited by the idea of these two new sisters whom they had not yet met. Months later, as we continued to wait for Sylvie, we all sat on the swing again for a photo, this time holding our newborn daughter, Charlotte, and another updated photo of Sylvie. Finally, after 602 days of clinging to hope, our daughter arrived on U.S. soil and came to us, by which time we had moved to our current home, where we had a large porch swing built by Dave, perfect for more photographs.
As long as I live, I will never forget the thrill of that first morning with Sylvie. She and I were both restless. I eventually gave up on sleep and scooped her up, tiptoeing to the front door. I quietly turned the knob and we stepped out together onto the front porch. The sun was breaking through the horizon, as she clung to me. I took a seat on that much-used swing.
The rays of sunlight warmed my bare feet. The air was still, and the world was hushed. It seemed as if the birds even refrained from their typical morning chatter. Time felt suspended as I held my girl and gently rocked her back and forth. We didn’t speak. We simply sat together holding on to each other. She hadn’t been in my arms since the summer before when I had had to leave her behind at the end of a visit. In the many months since, I had been haunted by the memory of her tears as she was ripped from my embrace in the dark, sweltering summer night back in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I had often wondered if I would ever feel the weight of her toddler frame again. That morning, under the glow of a summer’s sunrise, I rubbed her back and my tears fell. She was indeed here: This was real. The porch swing that had held so many tears of sorrow and grief and utter helplessness now held tears of sheer joy and unimaginable gratitude.
To me, the front porch isn’t a space to overlook on the way into a home, it is an extension of the home itself. It’s the place where I start my day, on my beloved porch swing, piping hot coffee in hand, watching the world awaken around me. It’s the place for midsummer afternoon naps, the soft breeze gently lulling me to sleep. It’s the place where our family gathers at the end of a long day, our very own watchtower from which to witness the sky shift from soft hues of blue to vibrant pinks and burning reds as the sun dips below the horizon. It’s the place where Dave and I will sip a glass of full-bodied red wine and listen to the high-pitched tune of the cicadas’ song after tucking all the kids into bed. The rhythm of my day is calibrated by stepping out my front door and onto my front porch. I begin and end most days here and find myself exhaling with gratitude as I look out above the handrail.
Of all the beautiful places I’ve seen in the world, the view from my front porch will always be my favorite. I’ve witnessed so much change from here. We created a farm where there was once wild, unruly vines and brush. We now have a pasture full of animals and a pond they meander to throughout the day. We marvel as we watch brand-new mommas coax their shaky-legged newborn lambs to their feet. After growing up in Florida, where the seasons consisted of hot and very hot, I am constantly in awe of the beauty of this place; my view changes with the four seasons. The vibrant green of spring turns to the deep, lush landscape of summer. Fall brings golden light and changing leaves before the magical, soft, white hush of a winter’s snow appears.
Yes, the kitchen is often called the heart of the home. Yet I believe the front porch is the soul. It’s often more still. But if ever there were a space to represent hospitality, it is the front porch. It is the first welcoming place, a threshold to cross when entering a home. It’s also a place to gather. I couldn’t possibly count the number of deep, authentic conversations about community or parenting or faith we have shared with friends on our front porch.
When Dave and I first moved to our farmhouse, I felt isolated. We had been living in our town’s historic downtown area, where we could easily walk to friends’ houses and guests would spontaneously drop by while on a walk in the evening or for coffee in the morning. I loved it. I loved every unexpected visitor and the constant presence of our little community within the walls of our home. When we moved to the farmhouse on the outskirts of town, we were too far away for walking-past, dropping-by friends to pop over.
The days were long with a newborn, a toddler, and twin four-year-olds at home. Dave was working, building our business, while I had left my career to focus on our littles for a season. I craved adult interaction and missed having impromptu company. Our eldest daughter was newly home from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and most days our home felt like a triage center. I was juggling Sylvie’s needs with the constant demands of newborn Charlotte, along with our preschool boys who had just had their entire world flipped upside down. I was burned out and certainly didn’t shower consistently. Our house was never clean and laundry piles were the only constant.
The thought of inviting friends over for a dinner party seemed exhausting and absurd. Yet, one Sunday afternoon I ignored the absurdity and sent out an SOS text to three of my dearest friends. They showed up with the makings of dinner—Corrie brought a Caesar salad, Erin brought chili and fresh bread, and Melissa brought her mom’s famous fudge pie and a bottle of wine. Their husbands and kids came along and, before I knew it, our home was full of laughter and the sounds of glasses clinking. We pushed aside the craft projects on the kitchen table, lit a few candles, and ladled soup into bowls. The kids went to eat on the porch while the adults sat around the table. As I lowered myself into the chair, I exhaled a sigh of deep gratitude to be gathered again with our people. That Sunday became the first of a long-standing series of Sunday dinners that lasted for years.
After dinner, we would carry our plates of dessert out to the front porch swings—we now have two—and rocking chairs. A few of us would spill over onto the stoop. The kiddos would run around in the yard, chasing after the flickering light of fireflies. Sometimes they’d be entertained by the baby lambs leaping in the pasture or by tumbling down the hay bales that they fruitlessly tried to ascend.
After the adults had settled into our seats, we would dive into stories from the past week. Most often, laughter echoed off the front wall of our home as we rehashed the latest anecdotes of our lives. We never shied away from authenticity: Our lighthearted chatter often turned to sharing our parenting struggles or work conflicts. We were a safe space for tears when the clutches of grief gripped one of our own. We wrestled with questions of faith and prayed honest and desperate prayers together. Often Erin’s husband, Zach, would strum the guitar, as together we lifted songs of praise into the star-filled night sky.
Yes, Dave and I love the look of a front porch and the character it adds to a home. But, even more, it’s our attempt to recapture the spirit of slowing down and making time to nurture relationships. When Dave and I restore an old house, we always preserve the front porch.