Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.


Humble. Yoga. Go!

Friends opened a yoga studio and invited me to try it.

I’d never tried yoga and, other than mandatory (despised, humiliating) PE classes all the way through college and some neon jazzercise in the late-80’s/early-90’s, group exercise—team or class—hasn’t been my thing.

To be honest, exercise hasn’t been my thing. I’m branching out in middle age! (Literally: tree pose, growing branches)

I would have chickened out, but I bumped into my friend. She looked at me, pointed dramatically, and declared: “YOU! It’s time!”

I went. I loved it.

Because my son took a year of yoga in high school, I had heard that final savasana (lying flat on your back as in sleep) is supposedly the hardest yoga pose. Seriously, what’s so hard about lying still?

Proud of myself for making it through an hour of yoga, I was surprised when my yogi-friend grabbed my foot, then lifted, wiggled and pulled on one leg and then the other. I realized: I didn’t even know how to properly lie still. My body had been holding in stress and my legs weren’t fully stretched out. Talk about humbling…

At the end of class, I gulped one big sob: I had found a form of exercise that could unite body, mind, and spirit. Through this practice, hard and humbling as it might be, I could physically practice the greatest commandment: to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind.

Though my body ached, I had to go back. This time, I couldn’t keep still during final savasana as sobs shook my shoulders. Yoga tapped so deeply into my inner being that I felt like I should go home and journal. I knew I needed more yoga in my life.

One of my favorite things about this studio: humility is built into its name. Humble Yoga. As a total newbie, I have no choice but to enter in with humility. And when I wiggle or shake or fall flat on my rear, I laugh at myself. No judgment, always options to modify, and at least I’m trying! (One of our yogis said, “Oh, you just laugh all the time!” With humility I agreed, and laughter is good for the soul).

Another favorite thing about yoga: what I learn on the mat applies to life off the mat. Listen to these phrases I hear in most classes:

What is your intention?
Where is your foundation?
Ground down.
Inhale your intention. Exhale, commit a little deeper.
Engage your core.
Notice your body. Release any feelings of tension.
Grow tall through your crown.
Drop your shoulders.
Find your edge. Breathe through your edge.
Relax your face.
Shake it out.
Find your active pose.
Find something new in each familiar pose.
Gaze up.
Find a focal point.
Are you still breathing?
Option to modify.
Come back to your breath. Come back to your intention.
Give yourself a gentle squeeze.
This is your practice.

I’m sure you can imagine countless scenarios where those phrases would be helpful advice… In a tense work meeting, or conversation with a neighbor, spouse, or grumpy teenager. Any time life feels challenging. Any time you feel stumped or stifled. Any time you feel run down or discouraged. Any time you need a gentle nudge towards growth. How many times off the mat have I reminded myself to notice my body, to remember my intention, to relax my face and drop my shoulders, and just breathe?

Yoga reminds me to be present to this moment. This breath. This stretch. To breathe into the pain or pleasure of this moment without anticipating what will come next. Whatever’s next will surely come, and I will breathe into that moment as it comes, but this is Now. We can do hard things if we are present to what each moment requires and remember to keep breathing.

We do together what we would not do alone. I still walk or run most days in between yoga work outs, but yoga pushes me in ways I wouldn’t push myself. And in the studio I make new friends and connect in new ways with people I’ve known for years. In the studio we build community within our community, and it will strengthen the community beyond its doors.

Currently, my goal is to go 2-4 days a week; eventually that will become 3-5 days a week as I get stronger and ache less between. Still, even the aches remind me to breathe; that I have done and will do hard things; to be intentional.

I may not have a “yoga body,” but this body does yoga.
I am not strong. I am growing stronger.
I am stronger than I was. I will grow stronger still.

With practice.

[Yoga with me!]

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re:create recess

In 2015 I decided to adopt a word (actually, a phrase) that significantly affected my decision-making: put yourself in the way of beauty. Unlike any resolution or goal setting before it, that phrase began a work in my being–mind, heart, body, soul–that continues to this day.

Create was my 2016 theme, and it picked up where beauty left off. However, it didn’t take long to recognize the connection between creativity and play. I began to feel more playful, to enjoy life in new and fulfilling ways. Yes, sometimes creativity involves hard work, and still creative work can feel playful.

Which makes sense when you think that we often use recreation as a synonym for play. To recreate means: “to refresh by means of relaxation and enjoyment, as restore physically or mentally.” The creative process refreshes and relaxes me, leading to joy as I differently engage my body and mind in play.recess

I wondered if play would be my 2017 theme. But no, I’m not done with create. Yet I am interested in exploring the association between creativity and play and how both have the power to re-create (transform) us and the world around us. Hence, re:create—another take on create (“re:”) with an emphasis on play.

2016 was a mixed bag. Personally we had joys and more than a few bumps. So did our friends. And our nation experienced, arguably, one of the worst divides I’ve witnessed in my adult life. One month into 2017 and less than two weeks into a new president, the divide seems to be widening. Now more than ever we need to create, to play, to enjoy some good ol’ fashioned recess (preferably minus the playground bully, but we’ll try to ignore him…)

We can create…

…art, beauty, childhood and childlikeness, community, compassion, design, experience, family, friendship, growth, health, home, hope, innovation, joy, laughter, legacy, love, marriage, meals, memories, music, peace, play, poetry, rituals, service, stories, traditions…

Questions to ponder (and an answer):
What do you create? Or, what activities fill your days with life and passion?
I create a life, love, a home, a safe shelter for my guys. I create experiences, memories, traditions and rituals that enrich our life together. I create hospitality for friends and space to go deeper together. With all these beloved people, I create relationship, friendship, and laughter. We create hope and courage for one another when things get rough. I have created this blog as a means to record and reflect on miracles in the mundane, and through this blog I have created a community of writers/creatives and readers.
How do you recreate/play?
How does recreation affect other arenas of your life?
Why do you re/create?
How has creativity/play recreated your heart, mind, soul, body, life?

Next Wednesday I’ll feature 2017’s first guest post, and throughout the year we will hear from creatives of all stripes and spots: parents, teachers, painters, musicians, designers, coaches, pastors, thinkers, and of course, writers… They will inspire and challenge us with their unique expressions of creativity, play, and transformation. I’m calling this re:create recess and, just like in elementary school, I can’t wait to get to playtime!

Create Hope

I have known today’s guest post writer for close to half my lifetime, and she has been one of God’s best gifts to me: laid back and passionate; thoughtful and whip-smart; kind and prayerful. She also has one of the best laughs I’ve ever heard. She seriously listens and together we laugh until we cry. She’s also the rare bird who thinks I’m funny, which also makes me laugh. Kelly is one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met, and I pray you will be encouraged by reading her post.hope-sun

Create Challenge #9: Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch

While I could make you laugh at my many attempts to “be creative” and the pintrosities (Pin-tros-ity: a deeply troubling creation inspired by a beautiful picture on Pinterest that bears no resemblance to its original inspiration) that have resulted from my pursuit of artistic expression, I have slowly come to realize that my creativity lies elsewhere.

I have a gift for building relationships with almost anyone. With those who live inside and outside my same-ness, that is, my culture, language, religion, political affiliation, socio-economic status and life experience. I also have this crazy ability to speak truth and encouragement (or, in-courage-ment: putting courage into someone) for the next step of their journey. In so doing, my creative expression reveals itself in the unique way I help to build hope in the hearts of the people I meet.

Creating hope sounds great, but what does that even mean? How do you create hope? Does that even count as real creativity? Believe me, I’ve had this conversation with myself a thousand times. Creativity manifests itself tangibly, like on a canvas, but creativity is not limited by artist’s tools. It shows up in our everyday. And my way is found in this nebulous, ever-changing dynamic of relationships. It’s in discerning what God is doing. In walking with someone to the edge of their next leap of faith, reminding them that no matter what God is with them, for them and can be trusted with their whole heart, even when God has asked them to do scary things.

How do you create hope? I can’t give you a formula. We’ll all do it a little differently, but I have no doubt that we are all called to do so. The Bible says, “God puts poor people on their feet again; he rekindles burned-out lives with fresh hope, Restoring dignity and respect to their lives— a place in the sun!” We are called to partner with God in His work in the world, and part of what God is doing in the world is rekindling burned-out lives with fresh hope. Here’s the really exciting part: when we get onboard with His work rather than our own, God shows up in the most awesome ways.

God gives us hope and yet, at times, I have lost it. During difficult moments, my heart identified with David who cried out: “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.” Honestly, my prayers have been less gracious, filled with more colorful language, wailing, screaming, even (shudder) cussing at God. I have felt pushed to the brink of ending the relationship I gave my life to so long ago. Broken and frustrated, I didn’t want to continue with “the plans God had for me” if they were going to be like this.

At the end of my own rope, my own effort, my own desires to appear righteous in my own strength, at the end of my own all-figured-out version of Christianity, something ordinary and extraordinary happened.


After years of silence, a friend picked up the phone. “What in the world is going on with you?” she asked. “God has put you on my heart and I can’t stop praying for you.” I burst with deep sobs and blabbered something about the pain and sorrow I strained to carry. And in that vulnerable moment she said something I will never forget. “Kelly, I know these last few years have been painful for you. I can hear it in your voice. But God has good plans for you and is laying the groundwork for something far greater than you could imagine. I know you don’t have the strength to believe that right now, but I do. And with my portion of faith, I will carry you to the cross until you believe in His goodness once again.”

I can’t explain what happened, but somehow everything changed. Her words and prayers touched me and a hope that I believed dead started to stir. God allowed her to be a part of how He “lifted me out of the ditch, and pulled me from deep mud.” She saw how “He stood me up on a solid rock to make sure I wouldn’t slip and taught me how to sing the latest God-song, a praise-song to our God” (Psalm 40:1-3).

Shane Claiborne talks about catching hope: “You can’t really learn God’s hope like you learn the logic of an argument or the details of a story. It’s more like learning to belly laugh. You catch hope from someone who has it down in their gut” (The Irresistible Revolution). God uses those who have hope to share it with others.

My personal friend, Merriam-Webster, defines hope: “to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true. Hope implies little certainty but suggests confidence or assurance in the possibility that what one desires or longs for will happen.” Hope is both noun and verb. Something you do hoping for a good result; and an actual thing, someone or something that gives you a reason for hoping. Christ is our reason to hope. Christ creates hope in us and in the world.

God has always been clear about what He set out to accomplish on earth. In Isaiah 42 God promises that “He won’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt and he won’t disregard the small and insignificant, but he’ll steadily and firmly set things right. He won’t tire out and quit. He won’t be stopped until he’s finished his work—to set things right on earth.” In Matthew 12, a retelling of Isaiah 42, God says, “Before you know it, his justice will triumph; the mere sound of his name will signal hope, even among far-off unbelievers.”

So how do we create hope? We look at how God does it. We don’t brush aside the bruised and the hurt. We don’t disregard the small and insignificant. We get in there, wherever there may be. We roll up our sleeves and lend a hand. We carry each other’s burdens. We listen, cry and get messy. We remind those who have no hope that they have reason to hope. That with God, truly “ALL things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) and that in Christ all hope is never, ever lost. As we line up with what God is already accomplishing in the world, we get to be a part of how God creates hope in this crazy, beautiful, broken world. Isn’t that AMAZING?

I do not perfectly practice partnering with God in creating hope. I am—we all are—a work in progress. While I wholeheartedly believe in creating hope, creativity involves courage. What if all I have to offer isn’t good enough? I fear both public and private criticism and feel a deep sense of personal rejection if my work is met with less than adoration. I don’t always feel courageous. Yet I value courage more than fear. Therefore, my choice must be creativity, vulnerability and risk over self-protection and fear.

Sometimes I fail. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I make a valiant attempt but still fail miserably. Sometimes, before I even begin, I find myself in a ball on the couch slaughtered by the voices of self-doubt.

But God tells us to “take heart, because He has overcome the world” (John 16:33). So, as long as I have breath, I pray that I choose to participate in what God is doing in this world. “I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Philippians 3:12-14).


Kelly Bermudez-Deutsch lives in Northern California with her sexy husband, three beautifully quirky kids, a dog named Lucy and a cat named Jack. She loves spending time with her family, good friends and good books. She hopes that one day her home will be organized and tidy, but until then finds joy in the messiness of life and love.


A few years ago, our neighbor took down their simple tree swing. He walked across the court and put it under our pine tree, then returned to his garage to get a ladder and tools. Within minutes, their slightly-older children had bequeathed to ours a perfectly good source of outdoor entertainment.

Now adolescents, I suppose my kids might be too old to spend much time on the swing. We keep it up, though, for the waiting times – waiting for rides, for friends, during transitions. And the neighbor kids come up the court when the weather’s nice. I love hearing little kid laughter from our front yard. It makes me giggle in chorus.swing

Some months ago a friend challenged her social media followers to do something childlike. I immediately thought of our swing, and so I spent a few minutes swinging. I had thought I didn’t like swinging, that as I get older the motion makes me a tad seasick. And yet, it didn’t. It was fun, playful, indeed, childlike.

We’re in that funny NorCal time of year when technically the calendar declares Winter and yet we experience Spring-like days. The sky is blue, the birds sing, flowers pop up from the ground, trees bud, oh, and allergies make my eyes sting. While I would be thrilled for the heavens to dump a few more feet of rain on our parched landscape, meanwhile the beautiful light quality makes me happy. It makes me want to play outside.

So I’ve been swinging on my tree swing regularly. The other day I set the toaster for four minutes and ran outside to swing until the timer beeped. Other days I’ve set the timer on my phone for five minutes and played until it goes off.

On the swing, I feel my body – legs pumping rhythmically, lungs filling and exhaling, heart thumping with joyful exertion. I feel the rough rope in my hands and the air on my face and blowing through my hair. I move fast and pump hard, and then rest, floating. I see sky between branches, pine cones opening to distribute their seeds, California poppy leaves taking over our once-lawn. I hear the creak of the swing and the branch, the birds as they flit from tree to tree.

Five minutes seems like a completely do-able amount of time for a break. I don’t have to think. I get to just be in the best, most human sense. I suppose I’m getting exercise, moving my body in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise, but that’s not the point.

The point is play. It has occurred to me to wonder if the neighbors are peaking out their windows, wondering what’s gotten into me. It has also occurred to me to tell my inner critic to bug off. Who cares if a grown woman on a swing, no children in sight, looks like a nut case? I’m having fun. I’m gathering a new perspective. I’m enjoying the day and my place in space. I’m saying YES! to life.

How about you? What do you do for play that reconnects you to child-likeness and helps you gain perspective?