The last of our three main speakers for this year’s Paideia Northwest conference joins us for this conversation, continuing to ponder the themes of wonder, wisdom, and worship. As a photography journalist, homeschooling mama of ten, and recent co-author of the book Gather, Heather Tully is a font of encouragement and grace on these topics! She shares some of her own favorite bits about educating her kids at home, focusing primarily on relationships – individual relationships with God, relationships with one another, and corporately together as a family having a relationship with God and neighbors. What a beautiful tapestry! Heather also gives some of the inside scoop on the backstory from the book, Gather – what it was like to photograph the Gathering times of nine different families, traveling around the country to see the Lord at work in such a variety of different homes, and she even throws a nod to conversations she and I had as we daydreamed about Paideia Northwest and Paideia Southeast collaborating… and how this year’s own conference theme ended up as the subtitle of her beautiful new book. If you have a rocking chair on a porch, if there’s a summer breeze, and if you can top off a cup of coffee with a healthy splash of cream, then you will not want to miss joining in on this latest Paideia Conversation.
Links and Resources
Heather Tully, photography & personal website
Gather by Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully
When Strivings Cease by Ruth Chou Simons
Melissa: Hello and welcome to Paideia Conversations where we dialogue about all things paideia. I am your host, Melissa Cummings, from Paideia Northwest. This is where you can listen in as Christian mamas discuss our purpose to raise our children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord – His paideia.
Joining me today for this paideia conversation is Heather Tully. Heather is a homeschooling mama of ten, from the South – in fact, she helped start Paideia Southeast down in Georgia, and she also recently published her first book alongside Pam Barnhill. The book is called Gather. And we get to welcome Heather to the Paideia Northwest conference this year to share with us her thoughts and experiences about wonder, wisdom, and worship, particularly seeing wonder as a mama. So I’m really looking forward to that, I can’t wait for the conference this year! I guess that’s normal for me, [laughter] but I’m really excited to introduce Heather to you today.
From Gather by Pam Barnhill and Heather Tully.
You, dear mama, are a wonder-maker! I know because I’ve seen it.
First, before you try to create wonder, I want you to simply behold it. Behold the wonder, the wisdom, and the worship of gathering with your children. The word “behold” comes from an old English word, bihaldan, from “bi” (thoroughly) plus “haldan” (to hold). You’re going to have to work at grasping, holding on, so you can thoroughly see the beauty in gathering with your children. You’re going to have to stop worrying (aren’t we supposed to do that anyway?), and simply look around you. And oh! when you do, seeing is inspirational.
Have you ever stopped to consider the atmosphere of your home? In order to waltz in wonder, we want a tone of curiosity about and fascination with what God is doing in His creation. We want an attitude of reverence and humility as we seek to grow in knowledge. We want a tone of peace so we can take time to marvel. Atmosphere doesn’t just happen, it’s made up of the things we do as well as the grace of God. To have curiosity, we must actively learn. To grow in reverence, we need a real sense of our smallness and God’s greatness. To have peace, we need a schedule that’s not rushed. To grow in humility, we must first repent of wrong attitudes and behavior.
To order our affections rightly, and engage in acts of worship, we need to build relationships. We were created to know God and have fellowship with Him. In the garden before the Fall, that fellowship was perfect. Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. Sadly, sin brought brokenness to that harmony. Adam and Eve left the garden. Only in Christ is fellowship with God restored. His perfect life and atoning death on the cross paid the penalty for our sin. The gift of fellowship is for all those who repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Glory, hallelujah!
We were created for living relationships. So gather your children and commune with your Savior together. Feast on His Word and wonder at His works by discovering ideas.
Melissa: hey, I’m so excited to have Heather Tully with me today! I have not yet gotten to hug her in person, but she’s one of my favorite people to chat with on Voxer and to engage with on Instagram. So I’m really excited to introduce my friend Heather. Hey Heather, thanks for joining me today.
Heather: hey, Melissa.
Melissa: so could you just, please briefly introduce yourself and tell me what you love about educating your kids for Christ?
Heather: thanks, Melissa, for having me on your podcast. So I am Heather, I am wife to Eric – we’ll be married twenty-three years in September, we have ten children ages twenty-two to almost-five.
Heather: three high school graduates, one of those is done with college, and the two boys are in college as I speak. This year, I’ve got six homeschool students with a toddler in tow who is very eager. He’s five, so this is his last year. But I’m having a hard time convincing him [laughter] that he should wait and start next year. So he’s very much a part of much of what we do in our homeschool day, especially our gathering time.
Heather: so we’ve always homeschooled, so this is my sixteenth year homeschooling, though I like to tell people it’s really the nineteenth because I began with a gather time with my two children when Patricia was three. So I’m really grateful for that foundation. We live in Georgia, we enjoy the sunshine of Georgia even though we are originally from the north.
Melissa: yeah, I started doing my version of Morning Time back when I just had one little guy as well, so it was that same kind of thing. Just laying a foundation. I don’t even think I knew that I was laying a foundation, because I sort of had a vision of what I was going to build, and yet being a first time mom… second generation homeschooler, but first time mom… it was all just a little bit of making it up as I went along. And, I mean, we had internet but I didn’t have social media, and a lot of the people that I sort of link elbows with now weren’t, like they didn’t have books yet. [laughter] So yeah, same, same kind of thing, setting that foundation from the getgo. So that’s awesome.
Heather: I love educating my kids because I get to be with them. I love building those relationships and getting to walk alongside them and teach them about the Lord and integrate that into all of life. And that’s sometimes the hardest thing to do, living alongside each other, day in day out…
Heather: you know, twenty-four-seven when they’re younger, but it’s also such a great privilege. And to see their relationships grow with their Savior and also with each other. I love learning alongside them. We’re not just educating our kids: us mamas get to be a part of that journey. And I am learning these things often for the first time. I’m reading aloud books that I never read before or it’s been a long time, and so that’s a great joy. So I love the relationship side of homeschooling, and I love training them to seek the Lord in all things, to give God praise and honor and glory, and then I love learning myself.
Melissa: that is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? I know a lot of people talk about redeeming their own education, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like I need to redeem my education… I even have the privilege of being homeschooled and, by one of those pioneers back in the eighties, and I don’t feel like I need to redeem anything. But I get to fatten it up. And just continue. It’s that lifelong learning process, and I just, I just love it to pieces. So I’m with you. And especially as Christian mamas! We are not just homeschooling our kids because we want to keep them home whether it’s to… I mean, there’s so many reasons people decide to homeschool… but one of the main things is because we want to have them just saturated in Christian culture and in a family and a home that is seeking the face of Christ and sitting at His feet. And it’s such a privilege to do that alongside them. So yes, I’m with you. [laughter]
Heather: so in addition to being a homeschool mama, which I absolutely love, I’m also a documentary photographer. So I love documenting life as it is. So don’t clean up the room [laughter], don’t put on special clothes, I want to remember the moments that made up our day to day life. And I want to remember the stories behind that. And so I started to take photos of my own family, just capturing ordinary moments, and learning to see the beauty in those moments, learning to wonder at God’s amazing providence and goodness to us. And so that then led me to grow a little bit in my skill, and I love when I get to now document other families’ lives. And so that’s a, that’s a big passion for me. I, in addition to taking those document pictures, I also write narratives and what was happening in the background or what that picture’s about for my children. And I make it into a book each day, or each year. And so it ends up being a way to, not just remember what’s going on, but often when I have something on my heart that I want to say to my children, I’m drawn to picking up my camera to capture it and then write about it to them. And so I love doing that. I love having my camera with me. I’ll probably have it with me at the conference.
Melissa: [laughter] yay!
Heather: it’s pretty rare when I don’t have my camera with me. It tends to go where I go. So that’s a big, that’s a big passion of mine.
Melissa: yeah, that makes sense.
Heather: the last few years I’ve really been meditating on the word “wonder.” It’s, I think, probably because I do documentary photography, it’s something I’ve been thinking on a lot in our family. And then it led me to then start a Charlotte Mason local community, and I called it the Wonder Group.
Heather: and we have a co op that meets once a week, and then we have nature walks with whole families twice a month, and I wanted the children to wonder and be in awe of God’s creation, and then His works and things like history and art and literature and music. And so I think that’s the word that I’ve been chewing on quite a bit. What does it mean to wonder? Who are we wondering towards?
Heather: and then, what is the fruit of that wonder? So I mean- wonder, wisdom, worship, like I said, I think they all are tied together. It’s a circle that goes around and around. It’s a rope that I think binds and builds on each other.
Heather: but I think wonder has been the word that I’ve been drawn to. And maybe also, because as a mama who’s very busy with lots of little, I found myself needing to wonder.
Heather: to not get bogged down in the ordinary, what can sometimes feel mundane…
Heather: repetitiveness of being a mom who’s taking care of children. And so I found myself needing to be in awe [laughter] and to smile more and rejoice. And so when I started to pick up my camera a little bit more purposely, that helped me to see and notice and to wonder in our own family.
Melissa: I love that. Picking it up, looking through that lens with wonder and… Oh, so good. Now, I’m really excited that I get to hug you this year after, you know, being friends long distance for a while that’s going to be a real treat. So please give us a little, a little snippet, tidbit, some kind of quick idea of what you plan to bring to the conversation, to the table at the Paideia Northwest conference.
Heather: I’m super excited about the Paideia Northwest conference, and especially getting to meet you, Melissa, in person.
Heather: and not just chat on Voxer and through Instagram, but getting to see you and give you a big hug. So my talk this year is called Wonder Through a Mama’s Lens.
Heather: and I’m gonna focus mostly on how do we bring wonder into the atmosphere of our home. But also how wonder then leads to wisdom, and how wonder then leads us to worship. And I’m then thinking a lot on Psalm 77. There’s a few different verses here. I’ll start with verse eleven. It says, “I will remember the works of the Lord. Surely I will remember Your wonders of old.” And then in verse fourteen. “You are the God who does wonders, You have declared Your strength among the peoples.”
Melissa: so good!
Heather: and I want to flesh that out. How do we remember His works? And are we wondering, are we so caught up in the busyness of the day that we are forgetting to be in awe of the Lord?
Heather: and then how is that wonder connected to growing in wisdom and walking in the statutes of the Lord? And then does that wonder lead us to praise, to worship Him? So I’m really grateful for that opportunity. It’s been really encouraging for my own life to think and to meditate and to pray over these things, and I’m excited to get to share with other mamas.
Melissa: oh, that sounds so good! Okay, so you know I love the Psalms to begin with. And, actually I think… I mean, there’s so many I love… but Psalm 77 is definitely, it’s definitely up there! So I… actually one of the reasons that I love doing these pre-registration, like, podcast interviews, is because I get ideas [laughter] from the rest of you. So I don’t feel like I’m just having to scrape up my own ideas, I get to, yeah, just sort of take snippets from each of you. So I think we’re gonna see some Psalm 77 [laughter] at the conference itself. I think that’s just perfect. So thank you for that. Now, if you were to pick one or two of the words: wonder, wisdom, worship… could you share how they’re presented or prioritized in your home? What, what is that like?
Heather: I think when we are taking the time to wonder at God’s creation or wonder at God’s good work in our lives, or in the lives of our children, it leads us to praise Him.
Heather: it leads us to seek Him. Who is this God who made this amazing creation? And then hopefully that’s driving us to His Word, which is the source of wisdom.
Heather: so I think wonder, wisdom, worship is very much, it’s almost like a cord. And it’s tied together, and they strengthen one another. And that pausing to wonder, I then want to worship Him in praise, and I want to grow in wisdom and learning more about Him. I think then I think leads me to be in awe and to be in a state of wonder again. So it’s kind of like a circle in my mind that’s, just goes round and round. And I think all of those things are important. We need to wonder and stand in awe before the God of truth, and that truth is found in the wisdom of His Word, and then that needs to lead us to worship.
Melissa: mmm, mhmm. All of that. Because we don’t start at wonder and go through wisdom just to attain true worship, right? They’re, they’re all, you know, you said it’s like a circle. It is. It’s cyclical, it’s a cord. I really like that. It’s tied together. I almost think of it as a knot, when you said a cord, I think of it as a knot. Where it’s not just a circle, they all influence each other and you just described that really well. I love that. So I’m gonna be thinking about that cord. How could I bring that cord into the [laughter] into the conference? Yeah, so awesome.
Melissa: Okay, so. Tell me about your book, Gather. It was released earlier this year, and so I want to know… where did that idea come from? What was that process like? And, I don’t know, what was your favorite part of creating Gather? It was when you and I were dreaming up this actual conference that the subtitle kind of stuck for you because we were talking about wonder, wisdom, and worship, and how I wanted to do this conference. And we were daydreaming together or scheming or planning [laughter] across the country. I remember I was getting steps and, while my kids were at piano lessons, I would walk in circles getting steps. And we would be chatting on Voxer about this. So anyway, I am just eager. Tell us, tell us about Gather.
Heather: so, Gather: exploring the wonder, wisdom, and worship of learning at home is a book that I got to write with Pam Barnhill, who’s a good friend. And I also took most of the photos that you’ll see in the book. So Gather gives mamas an opportunity to take a peek into the lives of nine homeschool families. Pam and I are in the book, and then there’s seven other families, including one mama who is done with her homeschool journey, Cindy Rollins, and she shows us what it means to gather when you’re by yourself at the end of all those homeschooling years.
Melissa: I love it.
Heather: so the idea of Gather came about because often Pam and I are asked, you know, what does it look like? I get the idea of a Morning Time or gathering with my children but I can’t see it. And I’ve had several mamas in my home throughout the years to observe our gathering time, and so I wanted to share that in a book format. Because I can’t have everybody over. So I always love that opportunity to invite somebody into our home and, and get to know them. And when I talked with Pam about it, she was really excited and so it shares what gathering can look like. But then it also goes through and explores the ideas of, what does it mean to wonder with our children? What does it mean to want to share wisdom and worship with our children in gathering with them? What do we do on those days when it’s difficult? How do we get a teenager [laughter] to have a conversation with us? And then we get really practical at the end of the book, and we share ideas, share some of our favorite resources for things like nature study, geography, grammar, artist and composer studies. So I like that practical part. And the book ends with us asking those nine families some questions so that we can learn directly from them.
Heather: so it’s, it’s a, it was a joy to be a part of. I got to travel to these different families, spend a few days with them or an afternoon with them, and I gleaned just as much, if not more [laughter] than what I put in the book. I came back not just with ideas of what I could do in my Gather, but I came back so encouraged. I saw these mamas pouring into the lives of their children, loving on them, seeking the Lord for strength, and it just encouraged me to do the same. And it’s our hope that our book Gather can do that for you.
Melissa: I think that’s one of the things that’s so sweet about it, is that you not only wrote it and photographed and created it in community, but the way that it’s presented, the way the stories are shared, and the different families are just sort of sprinkled throughout – it’s, it’s very obvious that it was community-minded. And that’s kind of a unique thing when it comes to creating a book. Usually you know, you can tell, oh the book is written by one person, or [laughter]… because it was written by two people but representing nine… I don’t know, it just, it is. It’s just really encouraging. So I love that.
Heather: I do think that’s my favorite part of the Gather, is the inspiration. It’s very real.
Heather: so when you see the book, you’ll see me in pj’s [laughter] in some of those photos, you see toddlers crying. It, it’s a… I love the realness because gathering with our children isn’t always what a lot of us call “picture perfect.”
Heather: we live in real homes that are messy, we have kids that have needs, and we wanted to share that. But we also wanted mamas to see that that realness is special and beautiful. And so, I love how real Gather is, because I know doing this day in and day out for nineteen years, with another I think fourteen years ahead of me by God’s grace…
Heather: and then I get to do it by myself. So really, a lifetime ahead of me. But it has to be real to be consistent with it.
Heather: and so, I’m grateful that the book does that.
Melissa: yeah. I think recognizing that being real and not having to have it be “picture perfect” like you said, makes it easier to be consistent, and being consistent also helps it be more real. It’s not like we’re putting it on or faking. It’s, it becomes natural, it becomes part of our family rhythm, our routine. It becomes, really, just central to… well, for my family anyway… it’s central to what our family culture is! I just can’t imagine not doing it. It is, it is real, it is not picture perfect. Toddlers do cry in the back, and I only have one teenager so far, but you know, it’s, it’s different. It’s just a beautiful gift. And it is, it’s inspiring to know that other people are out there doing the same thing.
Heather: so the subtitle’s fun.
Heather: Melissa and I got to chat often over Voxer because we haven’t had the opportunity to meet each other in person…
Melissa: not yet! [laughter]
Heather: and I think it was one summer, was it last summer?
Melissa: last summer… no, it was before that. It was, it was in winter because Paideia Southeast launched at the end of last summer. And so it was a solid five or six months before that that we were talking about this, so yeah. I think it was, it was like February of 2021. [laughter]
Heather: but we were chatting about these ideas of, what does it mean to wonder and seek wisdom? How do we worship with our children right in our home during the week in between those corporate times of worship on the Lord’s Day?
Heather: and so we were, you know, throwing ideas out, back and forth. I was really drawn to the word wonder. And I think Melissa shared, you, you shared some about your conference.
Heather: and I knew, I was like, that’s it. That is what I want to share in our Gather book! So I think Pam and I came to you and was like, can we use this for a subtitle? [laughter] And you were so gracious. You were like, go for it. And you were so excited for us…
Heather: and that meant so much. When we were in the midst of that project. With traveling for photos and with writing sessions. To have friends praying for us was such an encouragement and it definitely, we could feel the Lord using those prayers.
Melissa: so many prayers!
Heather: so yeah. We should, we should give a nod to you, Melissa, it was… it was through those conversations, which is just awesome. I’m so grateful for the community of believers and for the friendship that we can have from one continent… or I guess we’re on the same continent… from one part…
Melissa: corner, yeah?
Heather: of the continent to the other part. It’s, it’s one of the joys of living in this era. There can be problems with technology, but it can also be a blessing.
Heather: and I’ve been encouraged to wonder, and to seek wisdom, and to worship with my children through our conversations together.
Melissa: aww, amen.
Melissa: okay, so just for fun… because I like to, I like to have some fun things. [laughter] I mean, we’re looking forward to all this serious stuff and deep encouragement, but at the same time, we also like to have fun, right? So what is your current favorite drink? And maybe, maybe it’s different season by season, or… but what’s your current favorite, Heather?
Heather: okay, favorite drink?
Heather: always, always coffee.
Melissa: always! [laughter]
Heather: always! [laughter] We drink a lot of coffee here with college students at home.
Melissa: oh, yeah. Yeah.
Heather: and also my husband and I because there’s a lot of kids and we’re busy. So favorite coffee drink is coffee with cream.
Melissa: okay, cream.
Heather: it’s gotta have cream or I don’t want to drink it.
Melissa: okay, duly noted. [laughter] I’ll make sure we have cream when you come here. Now, what’s… this one might be a little more complicated… what is a hymn, a favorite hymn, that you’re loving? Could be one that you’ve loved a long time, one that you’re loving currently… give me a, give me a hymn.
Heather: so picking a favorite hymn is a little bit hard! I almost feel like…
Melissa: I know.
Heather: you’re asking me to pick who is my favorite child!
Melissa: sorry. [laughter]
Heather: so, favorite hymn… I immediately thought of Be Thou My Vision. That was the hymn that was in our wedding ceremony.
Heather: and we’ve prayed that it is what we’re seeking as a couple, and as a family.
Heather: so I immediately thought of Psalm… I’m sorry, of Be Thou My Vision.
Heather: but then I also thought of Psalm 103. Which is a Psalm that my Charlotte Mason Wonder Study group is gonna be singing this year and also memorizing. And so, through the years we’ve come to love singing the Psalms.
Melissa: yay, me too!
Heather: so Be Thou My Vision, Psalm 103, and then if I can throw one more in there, because you can’t just pick one…
Melissa: oh, sure! [laughter]
Heather: O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus.
Heather: there’s something to wonder at, right?
Heather: so the deep love of our Savior and how it washes over us and it lifts us up. It’s a favorite one of mine to sing in the morning cuz it just kind of gets me going. The tempo. So, I couldn’t just pick one favorite hymn.
Melissa: well okay, [laughter] I guess I forgive you. Hymns and Psalms… I can’t choose favorites either. And I can never get enough. So, awesome. This is, I don’t know, the way that you share all of your latest reads on Instagram… I always feel like, wow, you get so much reading done! I don’t know how you do it. You must be a lot faster than I am. So I feel like this is a little bit of a dangerous question. But you are an excellent person for suggestions and resources, so tell me what have you been reading lately?
Heather: what have I been reading lately? I do a lot of reading for my children’s educations, so we call it prereading, and I try to read a little bit ahead of them, take some commonplace notes, so that I can be a part of the conversations when they come to narrate to me. But my own personal reading, I have been reading When Strivings Cease.
Heather: and that has been just, really sweet, short devotional for me to think about, and… am I striving for the Lord’s glory? Or am I striving in myself because I think I need to be made worthy? And she’s just pointing out that we don’t have to strive that way. We can cease from that kind of striving.
Melissa: mmm, amen.
Heather: because we’re worthy in Christ.
Melissa: mhmm, in Christ.
Heather: so it’s really just been encouraging just to meditate a few days a week on that and think through that book.
Melissa: oh, I love it, I’ll have to look that up. I’m so excited that we get to have you come be here for the Paideia Northwest conference, and we will get to chat about all of these things in person! And of course Pam Barnhill, who co-wrote Gather with you, she’ll be here, and I just think it’s gonna be a really, really good time. So I’m so grateful you took the time to visit with me and to chat about all these things. I can’t believe registration is about to open! I don’t know, I should start a weekly countdown… how many weeks is it until Paideia Northwest? Oh it’s coming soon! So all right, well, thanks, Heather so much.
Heather: thanks, Melissa, for having me on. And I can’t wait to give you a hug in November! And see all the other ladies that join us at the conference. It’s gonna be so much fun.
Melissa: it is. Thanks for being with us today. We’ll see you soon!
O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus. Text by Samuel Trevor Francis, 1875.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of Thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward,
to Thy glorious rest above.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread His praise from shore to shore;
how He loveth, ever loveth,
changeth never, nevermore;
how He watches o’er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;
how for them He intercedeth,
watcheth o’er them from the throne.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Love of every love the best:
’tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
‘Tis a heav’n of heav’ns to me;
and it lifts me up to glory,
for it lifts me up to Thee.
Melissa: and that brings today’s conversation to a close. You can find more encouragement and conversations on paideia at PaideiaNorthwest.com and PaideiaSoutheast.com for encouragement and ideas about raising your children in the nurture, admonition, instruction, and discipline of the Lord. Please join me next time for another paideia conversation. And in the meantime, peace be with you.