Blue Christmas Service

Join us on this day of the winter solstice as we gather for a Blue Christmas service — to give voice to those who are grieving and to remember those whom we have loved and lost. Even in our darkest times, God offers us hope and comfort.

The service is led by Rev. Todd Outcalt, author of Blue Christmas: Devotions of Light in a Season of Darkness, as well as Rev. Beth A. Richardson, Rev. Dr. Jacqui King, Rev. Bryan Tener, and Dylan White. Music by Rev. Dr. Cynthia Wilson, Dr. Diana Sanchez-Bushong, Tim Bushong, and Doc Hall.

The Ruler

I brought home my last load from the office on Wednesday and am starting to unpack and get things situated here at home. Plastic Jesus is sharing a cubby with Grandpa Tom’s wooden ruler.

More treasures from the office — A ruler from the pre-digital printing days.

Who knows how many years this ruler sat in the office of the Assistant Editor at Alive Now. When I arrived there in the 80’s the magazine was still being produced the old fashioned way. We sent the copy to the typesetters (amazing people who could key in strokes faster than anyone). The copy came back to us on really nice paper with the margins already set. These sheets were glued down on large sheets and marked up by the designer. The boards were then photographed and turned into plates that fit onto the printing press.

My job would be to read through the boards before they went to the production department and check the type and the instructions. That’s when I might use the ruler to try to imagine whether black words on an 80% screen of a color would be easy or hard to read.

I’m not remembering which was our first digitally-produced issue of the magazine. For a few years, the magazine was produced sometimes in the old way and sometimes in the new way. By the time the magazine was redesigned in the late 90’s, it was all digital production.

I loved the hands-on tasks of those early days of printing. And I’m so amazed to have gotten to see how much things have changed in technology since I started working at The Upper Room.

I remain deeply grateful for this wonderful work.

Related post: “Saying Goodbye to the Office.”

Saying Goodbye to the Office

So many people have lost so much this year. I’ve been fortunate in many ways. I have kept my job. I’ve not lost any friends or family to this disease. And I’ve even thrived by being able to work from home. When, six weeks ago, we learned that we would be working from home permanently and would need to clean out our offices by the end of the year, the grief of this time of massive change really hit me.

I’ve had an office at 1908 Grand Avenue for over thirty years. As I’ve worked through the process of cleaning out, throwing away, digitizing, and packing, I’ve felt both deep loss and profound gratitude. The people with whom I have worked these years have shaped and formed me. The Holy One has guided my path through the most amazing jobs. I have not reached the end of this journey just yet, but things will never quite be the same again.

I’ve been taking photos of the treasures in my office as a way to help me remember the stories; as a way to help me let go of possessions. I’m hoping to share a few of these photos with you.

This plastic Sacred Heart of Jesus has been with me since before I started working at The Upper Room. It was a gift to me from friends celebrating my calling as I began Divinity School. We were at a camp in Colorado for some days of renewal. We ate together, laughed, and sat up late at night dreaming about how to change the injustices of the church. The presentation of this plastic Jesus to me was a lovely affirmation of my calling — and a reminder not to take myself too seriously.

Jesus has graced a shelf in all of the eight offices I’ve inhabited. Now Jesus will watch over me in my office here at home.

I am grateful.

P.S. Friends, The Upper Room is not closing.   We are just going to be doing our work in a new way. The chapel is closed now because of Covid. Hopefully it will be open again after things are safe again.

I Hear the Sound of Breaking Hearts

I hear the sound of breaking hearts.

Tender, young hearts, open and hopeful,
Facing betrayal from the church which formed them.

Scarred, resilient, older hearts,
Once-healed wounds torn open by hatred and prejudice.

I know the pain of a breaking heart.
The shock, the sadness,
The emptiness that has no end.

Beloveds,
You are held,
You are loved.

Your wounds are tended
By the One who knew you before you were imagined,
The One who whispers,
“I created you,
And I love you
Just the way you are.”

Henri Nouwen said it this way:

Long before your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your school, your church touched you, loved you, and wounded you — long before that you were held safe in an eternal embrace.
—Henri J. M. Nouwen
Our First Love

Broken Wide Open

As soon as we laid eyes on you

Our hearts rushed in, unprotected,

Held captive by you

With your bright, smiling eyes.


Even with your hair grown long

Like a Highland cow

Those brown, trusting eyes,

“They’re under there somewhere,”

Reflected love.
 Unconditional love.


We fed you, watched you grow,

Cheered your every milestone,

Forgave your every transgression,

(Even that time you unraveled

the berber carpet in the bedroom.)

We loved you with wild abandon,

Ignoring the certainty

that some day we’d lose you.


And now you have gone.

And our unprotected hearts

have shattered, quite completely.

Broken wide open with the sudden loss of you.

“Thank you” is all we can say.

Thank you for being our very sweet pup.

Stealer of hearts.
 Such a good dog.

Hearts will heal, eventually.

But they will be forever reconfigured

By loving you.


Stand Witness

There are forces that flow
Through this universe.
Forces of life, of death,
of good, of evil.

Today a person dies.
Tomorrow a child is born.
We witness these events and
Stand in awe
At the holy immensity of it all.

Sometime we are swept up,
Blown around,
Knocked to the ground
By these powers
That we cannot see or hear,
Understand or control.

We stand as witnesses,
To the forces of evil,
To the oceans of love.

We stand as witnesses
To hearts broken open
With sorrow,
To voices speaking quietly
With courage.

We stand as witnesses,
Holding these sacred spaces,
Remembering and trusting
That our presence
Is enough.

Stand witness.
Be present.
Trust.

To Michael

I came home today and
Starting looking through boxes of photographs.
I was looking for the photo of you and me
At the United Methodist children’s educator event way back when.
The theme was “Peace” and you and I told the story of
Sadako and the 1000 Paper Cranes.

In my mind, the picture shows me, in white face,
Portraying Sadako.
I’m sitting in an old-fashioned wheel chair,
Wearing a hospital gown and surrounded by paper cranes.
You are standing in the background, narrating the story.

I see you in so many of my memories. …

I picture you smiling as I pop into your office —
The only one in the buillding with a rocking chair.

I see you standing at the microphone at annual conference,
The only clergy-person-not-from Edgehill
Speaking out for lgbtq folks.

I picture you sharing your stories
And teaching me how to tell my stories.

I see us preaching at Edgehill on Pentecost Sunday
Both of us wearing albs, weaving the story in two voices.

And then I found it …
Not the picture I had in my mind …
But a hidden treasure from the year
I was welcomed into full-time church ministry.

There I am. There you are.
Your eyes lighting up
As I introduce you to my Grandpa Tom,
The man I’d been telling you about in my stories.

Thank you, Michael.
I picture you and Grandpa Tom sitting on a porch in heaven,
The two of you swapping stories.

You are surrounded by
All the saints who went before.

You are a friend.
You are a blessing.
You are love.

Reverend Michael Williams passed away suddenly on March 19, 2018. We hold all who loved him in prayers and light.

A Blessing of the Empty Space

I pulled this blessing out of my book. I’m needing it today on this anniversary of my dad’s death. Bless all who mourn today.

You sit in the empty place that is left,
After the death, the arrangements, the service,
The cards and calls and e-mails,
The departure of family,
The thank-yous and acknowledgments.

Left with the emptiness,
The space that can never be filled
In quite the same way.

You see a shadow, hear a sound,
Taste a food they used to love,
Start to tell them something about your day,
Smell a blanket or sweater,
And your eyes and heart fill with tears.

The first week, the first month, the first birthday,
The first holiday, the first anniversary,
These bring you to the place of remembering,
The place of exquisite, lonely sorrow.
Bless you and your memories.
Bless the tender heart that beats within you.
Bless the empty space that can never be filled.

The shadows, the smells, the tastes, the thoughts,
Transform their pain into blessings,
Signs that though you live in that desperately empty place,
Your loved ones accompany you,
Laugh in the shelter of your heart.

The empty place
That can never be filled
In quite the same way
Is filled
With love.

From Christ Beside Me, Christ Within Me: Celtic Blessings by Beth A. Richardson. Copyright © 2015 by the author. Published by Upper Room Books. The picture is of my parents and me.

Honoring and Releasing Weavings 

Join your spirits with us today as we celebrate, honor, and release Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Tradition. We will be worshipping at 2:00 p.m., Central Time, at The Upper Room in Nashville.

As the sun rises, I walk the dogs
And think of the Weavings Journal,
How it formed me and so many others.

Today we hold a service of worship
To honor and release Weavings.
We will gather around the table of the Lord.

The table holds icons and symbols.
It holds bread and cup.
It holds a copy of the last issue of Weavings
Already in the homes of readers.

“Keeping the Door Open for the Holy” is the theme of this last issue.
That’s what we are doing as we honor and release this friend.
We are listening for the Holy One
To show us the open doors of our future.

Thanks be to God for the gift of Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Tradition.

A Season of Grieving

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Today it happened. The [last] issue of Alive Now arrived. I read the Managing Editor’s introduction inside the front cover and the “Last Page” — fittingly a poem by frequent-contributor Jan Richardson — as I always do. Then I set it aside. I will savor it in its own time, during March and April. Recently I received a refund check from Upper Room Ministries [PO Box 340004, Nashville TN 37203] for the balance of my subscription. I send the check back with a note that I would MUCH PREFER having Alive Now than any refund. I asked them to look for a way to restore Alive Now as a living devotional guide. I have walked with this publication for more than two decades. The cover has a Celtic look. Beautiful. Thank you, Beth and other editors, writers, supporters.
-Deborah, Shared on Facebook

It was a year ago in January when we learned that the Weavings journal would be brought to a close. The subscriptions had dwindled down to just a few and income from subscriptions didn’t begin to cover the costs of production. In June, we made the same determination for Alive Now. The last Weavings — November/December/January — arrived in people’s homes in October. The last Alive Now — March/April — is in the mail right now.

Since the first of this year, I’ve slogged through days like I was trying to walk through an ocean. I was weighed down by my grief and the grief of readers, world-wide.

I have nearly completed all the tasks of “stopping.” I realize, now, that it has been like journeying with two best friends in the process of their dying. Alive Now and Weavings, in hospice care, are nearing the ends of their journeys.

I am so grateful that I had these two friends for so long. And I’m so sad to see them go. But I’m weary from the process of watching them end, from responding to the grief of myself and others. From taking care of the last collection of articles, the last editing, the last contracts and check requests, the last printing, the last delivery of the copy to the office. I am nearly finished with the last of everything … and I’ll be able to turn over the future of these fine publications to the movement of the Spirit and the creativity of The Upper Room staff.

I’m so grateful to all of you for walking with me, for your incredible loyalty through the years, for your writing and your photography. For your purchasing and your gifting. For your support and enthusiasm. And for your feelings of loss, your solidarity, during this season of grieving.

We will be conducting a ritual of honoring and releasing Weavings on February 21 at 2:00 p.m. (CST). I hope you will think of us during that time. Also, we have back issues of Weavings available for sale for a short time. (And we have a place for you take a survey and share your stories of Alive Now.)

Thank you all for your support. We at The Upper Room welcome your prayers as we discern our next steps. And I’ll be moving on to a new role at the office. And, like Julian of Norwich reminded us, “All shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be well.”

Thanks be to God for these two friends, Weavings and Alive Now.