John john-hermanson-profileHermanson is a professional song writer and music producer.  I am honored that at my request he made his album Psalms available on Bandcamp so that we may share it with you here!  It’s beautiful…and you may be the very first to hear it on-line!  Listen and relax while you read…

Johnny and I have known one another 20 years, we have been neighbors for 13 years, and our daughters are best buddies.  We have music in common, and Johnny has been very supportive of me as a pianist.  He often will hear my performances prior to recitals, and provide encouragement and feedback.

Johnny is a deeply spiritual person, although he does not talk about his faith frequently.  I asked Jonny to spend time with me and consider that I share some of his story here with you.  So, 3 hours of recorded conversation and 12 pages of notes later, here we go…..


Johnny’s wife, Bettine, was diagnosed with breast cancer on October 14th 2015.  After a successful surgery, scans showed that she was in fact cancer free.  Due to the type of cancer, chemo therapy and radiation therapy were recommended.  The chemo was completed in early May, and the radiation in late June.  She does consider herself to be cancer free at this time.

Each time cancer enters a family’s narrative, it is deeply personal experience.  It effects the entire family.  It also effects each family member individually.  I have asked Johnny to talk about his individual experience as a focus for this writing.


Johnny began by sharing that he does not remember exactly where he was when he found out that the cancer was confirmed.  In hindsight he and Bettine actually have different memories.  Johnny said he is not necessarily troubled by this, although he is surprised.  He explained, “coping with this sort of thing includes remembering what you need to remember, and only what needs to be remembered.”  We then discussed the nature of memory, and that selective memory is a natural and important coping mechanism in response to stress and trauma.  It is something that ideally is to be seen as a strength, rather than a problem.


I personally remember Johnny bringing his daughter Ella over for piano lessons in the evenings during this time last year.  I remember his quiet, yet centered energy, and being so impressed.  I also wondered how he was taking care of himself.  So I asked him.  He explained that he did several things.  One was to focus, and get tasks done.  To make the phone calls, appointments, go to work, get the kids to school, etc.  The everyday things that had to be done.   He also mentioned a number of specific things:  Spending time with nature, time with family and family routines, practicing yoga, getting massages, and accepting the help that was freely offered.

The help that was offered came especially from friends, neighbors, and the church community.  His emotional experience with this was powerful.  He said his natural response to the sadness and the pain felt, was fear.  And yet, this was replaced and overshadowed by something he did not expect.  Gratitude.  Gratitude for what was being given, who each person is, the security that came from knowing others were caring and could be counted on.  And now his fear and anxiety is being replaced by gratitude and appreciation.  So it was not just the food, the offers of help with the kids, or the frequent check-ins.  It was the spiritual experience, the real life shift, and the refocusing of time, energy, thoughts, and feelings.  Letting go.

As I listened to Johnny I reflected on a deep level.  I noticed the quiet lighting, the intensely calm and centered music, and the relaxed expression on his face. He was thinking, and yet simply being present.  In my own mind, I interpreted his words and his state of being during our time together.  It made sense to me, but I could not quite explain it.  So, I asked him.

“What is this really about?  I mean, really about?”  He answered, “Prayer”.  So, my eye brows furrowed.  “Ummm, ….OK….?”  Johnny went on explaining prayer on this level as something that is not spoken, done, thought about, or even consciously realized.  Rather, it is the ongoing realization that reality has a direction to it.  When we simply know there is good, there simply is not time for anxiety.  It’s organic.  It’s noticing relationships while interactions are in play, it’s names popping up while meditating, it’s breathing, and it is recognizing just where your body is at.

Mindful Prayer

I noted out-loud, “This sounds a lot like mindfulness.”  Johnny nodded, and said it’s almost Buddhist.  He explained that his prayer is very centered in what God has done, in the reality of salvation, but not in the stereotypical theology that often comes to mind.  He shy’s away from using the word ‘Christian’, because it is so often misused.  Prayer is the releasing of control, acknowledging that God is on the loose.  We tend to think we can put God in our pocket, and take Him out when we need to.  Most people might be aware of this, but to really release this is much different.  God is on the loose.  Johnny ended this moment by explaining prayer is all of these things, it’s in the relationships, its in the super emotional moments when others come and say “we’re praying for you”.

Moving Faith

Without any real pause, Johnny began talking faith and theology.  The surprise is in how his faith has helped.  It’s not something he has done.  It’s not something he has to explain.  It’s the daily actions and routines that realize life has a direction to it.  This way of allowing faith to be has effected him dramatically during his experience supporting Bettine over the last year.  He said he really hadn’t thought about it until this interview.  He really hasn’t talked about this.  He would be surprised if anyone noticed on the outside, because it is internal.  He now has a clarity, a purpose, and he consciously is making one choice:  to not let anxiety and fear get in the way.  There simply isn’t time, there does not need to be time, because there is nothing to fear.

So, I paused.  Another one of those quiet moments.  Johnny is intuitive, more than he realizes.  He noticed, and allowed me some time.  I realized that he has hope, hope with traction to it, and hope that is happening.  I realized that the music we had heard earlier was changing.  In my mind I had playing Johnny’s album Psalms.

I shared with Johnny that I was taking new things with me from our conversation.  I warned him (with a bit of a smile) that as I put this into my blog, it may not be exactly right.  This conversation was so much deeper than I expected.  May it be the beginning of a dialogue, and this writing is simply a reflection of it’s beginning.


  1. It’s important to realize that a person’s responses to stressful and traumatic experiences is very personal.  These differences need to be understood and appreciated.
  2. There is not a separation between how the mind, body, and spirit respond to life changing moments.  When they are put together, this experience in and of itself, is prayer.  This experience is understood, and given a name, in the context of faith.
  3. Self care is individualized.  It can include practices such as yoga and mindfulness.  Praying.  Seeking and accepting support.  Directly seeking healing through tangible things such as massage, pastoral care, and counseling.  Music.  Time with others we are close to, including family.
  4. There are many different ways of understanding spiritual experience. And that if the experience of prayer and faith is allowed to happen (not controlled), it is a powerful healing experience.  A healing that continues into the future.
  5. Accepting support and giving support go together, physical, emotional, and spiritual support.


Johnny’s music continues, and is most certainly on the loose….be on the look for these up and coming things: 

  • LIVESTREAM DAILY!!  Sunday Nov. 27th from 8:00 to 8:30 CST  Every single evening through the season of Advent.  Johnny is producing an album based on the words in the Book of Isaiah. throughout the season of Advent!
  • For our benefit, Johnny has made his album psalmsavailable on-line.  Please do consider supporting him and his family by going to his band camp store and purchasing the album.



Finger Lakes SunsetSo I sat down expecting to focus on something profound like creation, or mindfulness, or principals of this or that belief system.  But something happened I did not expect.  As I began to write, and allowed myself to take in the sounds around me, I pictured Indiana Jones and Chewbacca face to face.  Both perplexed, both wondering if friend or foe.  I quietly circled around them, tipping my head to one side and the other as I analyzed the situation.  Where was Han Solo?  It took me a minute to snap out of it.

I noticed something in this distraction.  It is difficult to center myself when I have to focus on something important and something I am fearful of.  Beginning this blog, and letting hundreds of potential readers know about this, is scary.  This is where mindfulness does come into play for me.  It is about centering ourselves, using the sequences of slow breaths, counting, deliberately noticing our body, our thoughts, our feelings, and being accepting of exactly where we are at.  The important thing is to be patient, and then come back to focus when ready.

I am beginning this blog with the central focus being on mental health and emotional well being, and how it is in relationship with our spirituality and belief systems.  My goal is that it will be a bit more organized and structured than my own daily life. (If you know me personally, you know I am really challenging myself here!)

So, the plan: This will be shared each Sunday.  Each post will start with a topic named, a shared story or narrative, a conversation with someone who has professional and/or personal experience related to the topic, life lessons that might be taken away, and tips/strategies/resources we might use in our daily lives. I hope that it becomes a safe place where ideas are shared and thoughts expressed, openly and with respect. I hope that each week we will leave with a bit of new perspective on the importance of spirituality and how it can be an important part of our overall well-being.

-Photograph, courtesy of Madelyn Thomsen, Otisco Lake, July 2016

FIRST POST: A beautiful day….

Today, October 23rd, is my daughter’s 20th birthday!  What a beautiful day.

As I have set the pieces in place to begin my private therapy practice, I myself am challenged with moments of self doubt, and times of anxiety.  This is normal for me, and for so many of us.  So, what am I doing about it?

Well, let me tell you about my little avian therapist – Rupert.  As an Africanrue-brant-10-12-2016 Grey, Rupert is a very emotionally sensitive bird.  Grey’s are inherently anxious.  This is because in the wild they are flock birds, living in flocks of several hundred.  That is how they are safe, and they are birds that form life long bonds.  For Rupert, if he does not feel safe, he is anxious.  It is important that I understand and remember this.

When I adopted Rue two years ago, he was in a large space with 30 other parrots. They were very well cared for, with skilled and empathic volunteers – each able to feel and empathize and communicate. Before his rescue, Rue had been living in a very small cage for months and maybe years. He was quiet, but keenly focused; gentle, but you knew he could hold his own if he had to. To this day I still do not know why, but he chose me when our eyes met. Of all the possible human companions passing through, he came to me and began a bonding ritual. Others noticed, commented briefly but then gave us our space. After 45 minutes of my gentle words, Rue put his hand on my vulnerable fingers. They had been inside his cage for a long time. This was an emotional and spiritual experience, and Rue entered and joined our family in that moment. After three more visits, I brought him home.

Two years later we have such a spirited bird!   I have a few very small scars on my hand…hardly noticeable, but memorable. Rue has a wild side, and this is normal for a parrot. Every couple of months he reminds me with a nip or an unexpected lunge….and there is a balance.

Rupert, as an empathic and emotionally sensitive avian companion, is often a reflection of my own energy.  If I am stressed, upset, or anxious, he notices and feels it.  His behavior changes.  He will begin picking his feathers, he will become agitated, and even be aggressive.  He gets a certain flare in his eyes that shows he is feeling unsettled.  When Rue displays these behaviors, usually it means he is perceiving something about my energy.  So I listen and do my best to take care of myself and him.

I deliberately make use of many of the strategies I teach others.  I am practicing mindfulness, especially before I sleep.  In my approach, this is interwoven with prayer and centering in the context of my Christian faith.  This helps me regulate my body, think more realistically, and feel confident that I am safe.  I am taking care of myself physically – deliberately working out every other day.  I try to eat dinner at 6:00 and not later, because my anxiety is physiological and tends to kick into gear at night.  I am also talking directly with others in a wonderful support network, so I am not isolated in this venture.  Of course, I also spend time talking with my Rue.  A beautiful part of my family!

Stay tuned! I’m excited to have lined up for this coming week an interview with my friend, John Hermanson.   We have much in common:  he is a musician, a frisbee golf superstar, a deeply spiritual person, and a person who cares sincerely about others.  We’ll be talking about how both his faith and his music have played an important part in his self care over the past year.