I laugh every time I think about a text I got from Emily Belle Freeman this summer.
“Did you listen to TSwift yet? Are you a fan?” she asked.
When I answered in the affirmative, she replied, “You wish you came to my house last night. Next Taylor Swift party you are invited!! We lit candles and spread blankets and pillows all over the floor and ate chocolate chip cookies and pretended we were indie [music] fans. And by the end of the night, we were.”
It wasn’t something she planned in advance. After all, Taylor Swift announced the release of her album the day before. But the thing is, Emily was right. I did kind of wish I had been at her house because Emily has a gift—a gift for making moments that could easily pass by without acknowledgment feel worthy of celebration. These celebrations don’t always have to be elaborate–celebrations are allowed to be spontaneous—but she brings people together to share these moments and you walk away having made a sweet memory.
For Emily, her latest project, the Gathering Home, is more than an Instagram account, more than a workbook, and more than a collection of lifestyle products. The goal is to create conversation about deliberate gathering in hopes of creating a community that will encourage one another in their efforts to create a place of belonging. And it all comes back to something she has believed in for a long time: “a doctrine of gathering.”
“There’s purpose in it, it is part of the plan,” she says. “It’s part of who we are and what we need innately as children of God. … It’s when we look up to God and then we look out to community.”
But how do we meet this need today? As Emily puts it, we all need something that “gets us out of the bed in the morning.” We all need something to look forward to this year. And that is what makes the Gathering Home perhaps timelier than ever.
Different Kinds of Gatherers
When Emily was approached by Deseret Book about creating something that encouraged women in their efforts to gather, she knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she began to think of a couple of women she knew could help. First, she thought of Katie Hughes, a woman with a gift for creating beautiful celebrations, the kind where you just have to take pictures because you don’t want to forget any of the details.
“I can bring the meaning behind a celebration,” Freeman said. “I love to think of the meaning behind it, but I love that Katie is going to create the magic of it.”
With Katie on board, they needed one more person—someone to communicate the beauty of gathering through pictures. They soon thought of Jess Kettle, a talented young photographer they’d recently met, but Jess was only willing to join on a few conditions.
“I kind of came into this team where, frankly, gathering can be a little bit of a pain point for me,” she explains. “I have a very chaotic schedule. I’m a working mom. I often feel like I just don’t have it together. We’re not nailing family dinners. We’re not nailing all of the Come, Follow Me things.”
She remembers telling Emily and Katie, “I can do this as long as we are not one more place that is telling women how to achieve as gatherers and one more place that’s like, ‘Well, you’re not a good mom if you can’t make the cupcakes or if you can’t put together this Pinterest-worthy event.’ I don’t think that’s what women need. What they need is to be told that they’re doing a good job and they need to be shown the way and everyone needs to be met where they are.”
As a result, during TV spots on KSL’s Studio 5 and on their Instagram account, they have preached a message of “connection over perfection.” They are finding that a huge part of gathering is vulnerability.
”If we want people to be able to come as they are into our space, we have to lead with vulnerability. We have to put that first foot forward of not being perfect,” Jess explains.
A Mom for All Seasons
Between the three women, they represent different stages of motherhood with children ranging in age from three to thirty. Emily describes herself as an empty nester whose “heart still longs for gathering.” Katie is in the middle, with some kids still at home and some leaving home for the first time—but with one daughter preparing to be married next year, she has found her heart beginning to turn from her own babies to future grandchildren. Jess is a young mom still very much “in the thick” of it.
The three women have discovered that regardless of age or life situation, we can all learn from each other, and more importantly, we all need each other.
“I am really someone who relies on female role models and examples in my life,” Jess says. “That’s how I learn. I’ve always had someone in my life that is one step ahead of me that I’m taking notes from, and this is a really great space for that.”
Just as we transition from spring to summer, summer to fall, and fall to winter, they are passionate about the concept that we are all experiencing seasons of our lives. And just as we never know how long a particular seasonal weather pattern will last, we likewise typically don’t know the last time we will hold a baby or the last time we’ll go to our grandparents’ home for Christmas Eve.
“Things evolve and need to change,” Katie says. “It makes you want to treasure the season that you’re in.”
This requires intentionality and focus on the kind of home you want to create—and although their lifestyle products include doormats and charcuterie boards, they don’t just mean aesthetically.
“What do I want it to feel like in my home? What do I want our traditions to be?” Jess asks. “That’s a little slice of ‘What kind of mom do I want to be? What kind of friend do I want to be? What kind of sister do I want to be and what are the experiences and connections that I want to cultivate?’ And I think they just kind of build from season to season, year to year, to an entire chunk of your life.”
Some seasons this requires being open to change. With her kids out of the house, Emily has found she can’t do things the way she has always done them. She has had to let go of some traditions and give herself permission to reset.
Where Two or More Are Gathered
Certainly this year gathering looks a bit different for all of us than it has in years past, but the three women believe that the doctrine and need still exists and is possible to meet.
“With everything canceled, we still have that need to anticipate. It’s just part of who we are,” Katie explains. “Because things are different, what we’ve talked a lot about is, ‘What’s the next best thing?’—That whole concept of, ‘We can’t do all of these things how we really like to do it, but what’s the next best thing?’”
As a result, more gatherings are happening in smaller groups—many times in our homes, and that’s okay because the scriptures tell us what constitutes a gathering.
“Our gathering—all it needs to be is two or three to qualify for Jesus Christ to be in the midst of that and the power that then comes into a room or into a home or into a community because we’ve chosen to live by that doctrine of gathering,” Emily says referencing the scripture that says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, … where two or three are gathered together in my name, … behold, there will I be in the midst of them—even so am I in the midst of you” (D&C 6:32).
They have focused on the idea of creating a place of refuge and of inviting people into that safe space.
“When you walk out your door, the world is not a safe place to be right now and it’s not necessarily a loving place to be,” Emily explains. “There’s so much that is divisive and so much contention in every single topic that is part of our world right now … [it] makes it even more important right now to be creating a refuge that is the safe haven.”
The women are often asked about the Gathering Home, “Do you mean gathering like a party or gathering like the gathering of Israel?” They believe these two things are more connected than we may understand.
“It’s all both,” Emily says. “The true definition of gathering is loving people better. It’s seeing their needs and meeting them. It’s being thoughtful and intentional about what we need to do to express our love and to hopefully help people feel the Savior’s love.”
They believe there is power in practice—both for the gathering of Israel today and for something even more far distant. “We’re actually just practicing,” Katie says. “Every time we’re gathering with our family, we’re practicing eternal principles of gathering because we know we’ll be together in heaven.”
So, maybe your celebrations you look smaller than they have in previous years, maybe they aren’t as elaborate as the ones you see on Instagram. But are we missing the point? Despite what has likely been the weirdest year of our lives, is the purpose of these celebrations, these gatherings, still very much intact?
The same night this summer as Emily was gathering her family around by candlelight, I texted my little brother, “Want to have a listening party?” He is two years younger than me and we grew up listening to music together. We just happened to be on a family vacation together at the time Swift’s album dropped on Spotify. We went out to the car, cranked up the speakers, and talked about the lyrics as we listened. That night, we gathered—just the two of us—and made a memory. And I think that is what the doctrine of gathering is all about.