Reflections of Phoenix World Burn Congress 2016

Words that come to mind:  listening, compassion, radiant, sacred space, sanctuary, hugs, sharing stories, vulnerability, courage, resilient, learning, openness, risk, safety, gratitude, celebration, wholehearted, spiritual, growth, Namaste, love, warmth, heartfelt joy, tears, beauty, depth, struggle, opening, opportunity, embracing heartache, circles of connection, engaged, fear, grace, spurring others on, community, kids, friendship, remembrance, transformative, seeds for growth, hard to go home, survivors, joy, thrivers, sincerity, helping one another, connection, inspirational, hope

To be honest, it is mind boggling to even know where to start in sharing the experience of participating in the Phoenix Society World Burn Congress for the first time. Distilling just a few highlights from our time there has been one of my most difficult writing assignments!

 Phoenix World Burn Congress (Phoenix WBC) is a group committed to building a community to create a healing environment for those who have experienced a burn injury. The community is composed of burn survivors, families, nurses, firefighters, therapists, caregivers, doctors, children, youth and young adults. Add to them the wonderful folks who helped make Congress 2016 happen, including the large team of dedicated volunteers, the skilled AV (audio visual) Seals, the professional huggers, the image enhancement team, the leaders of breakout sessions and support groups, and the wellness team who provided massages and led yoga for participants. They were all astoundingly beautiful.

If you’ve read Stop Breathe Believe, you may recall I shared about the time I was first introduced to Phoenix WBC. I was in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2011 helping our daughter and her boyfriend as they were filming Temple Grandin for their documentary about autism and sensory disorders, Spectrum. We were in the same general area as the WBC convention, and I kept noticing these beautiful people who did not seem ashamed of their scars, some of which were quite significant. And as the weekend went on, I kept noticing the joy these people exuded. It was a remarkable time for me as I was in the process of writing about the concept of perspective—and saw how this group of people exemplified joy through obvious heartache and struggle.

I wrote about this experience in SBB. As I wanted to be sensitive to wording and how I portrayed the people who’d made such an impression on me, I asked Amy Acton, the Executive Director of Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors, if she could get someone to proof what I was writing. Amy apparently liked what she read and asked me to write an article for the Phoenix Burn Society magazine.

Then, as crazy things sometimes happen, two different members of their speaker team contacted me—neither knowing the other was calling. One team member had read the article and the other had heard me present a keynote in Texas. So, I got vetted twice for this engagement! I was so thrilled and grateful to be invited to be one of three keynote speakers for the event.

And I was also challenged. Did I have something to offer? I could, of course, talk about Stop Breathe Believe® and cultivating self- compassion...but I wasn’t a burn survivor. Would they relate to me?

What I’ve learned throughout the years is to be honest and open about my areas of expertise. When my colleague and I work with homeless vets, one of the first things we share is that we are not vets, and we’ve never experienced homelessness…so we’ll need them to teach us about what that’s like, and only then will we teach them what we know. So, in keeping with the idea of “practicing what you preach,” my green statement leading up to the conference was, “They did not ask you to come be a burn survivor, they invited you to share about Stop Breathe Believe and cultivating self-compassion.” I have no idea how many times I repeated that mantra to myself in the months and weeks leading up to the conference. I am also so grateful to Nancy Johnson, PhD, the Patient & Family Support Coordinator at the Burn Treatment Center of the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics, for inviting me to burn camp over the summer and spending hours with me helping me understand the trauma and experiences of the burn community. Here is a pic of Nancy with the Iowa group at the convention:

Roger, my husband and #1 encourager, was excited to be joining me for the conference in Providence, Rhode Island. You may recall that West Warwick, RI was the location of the disastrous Station nightclub fire in 2003. The toxic smoke, heat and the stampede of people toward the exits killed 100; 230 were injured and another 132 escaped uninjured. I recall watching the horrific scene on the news.

As we arrived at the hotel, we were greeted by firemen, volunteers and an amazing gentleman named Bruce who welcomed us all. All throughout the conference, I continued to notice Bruce reaching out to others, being kind, and extending grace and hospitality to so many! 

The first evening was the Walk of Remembrance, recognizing those who have lost their lives in fires.

The dignity and care with which the walk was carried out was a beautiful honor for those who did not survive. Many held pictures of lost loved ones as they walked up the hill toward the capital, where two firetrucks displayed the American flag. The Walk of Remembrance was a solemn, but significant way to begin the conference.

The first day of the conference, I met Michelle, a new friend at yoga. Here is a pic of us in our “non-yoga” attire.

Each day of the conference there was a keynote speaker, break-out sessions, support groups, programs designed specifically for the children and youth (age 7-17) and a program for the young adults (age 18-25). One of the most significant events for the adults each day was a session titled “Healing Though Our Stories – Open Mic.” As one who is a total believer of the healing that comes through sharing our stories, I was inspired to listen and get to know the survivors and their stories. The organization is very thoughtful in providing a safe place for people to come and share their stories with one another by emphasizing the roles of confidentiality and privacy. At times, open mic is the first time someone has had the courage to share their burn story. Tears, triumph, fear, courage, listening, loving, Kleenex and learning from one another are facets of the transformative journey and healing concepts of ‘You Are Not Alone’ and ‘Your Story Matters’ that are exemplified in Open Mic.

Roger and I most loved the precious moments of connection with so many. For some, it was brief moments of exchanges and hugs in the elevator. For others, it was significant discussions and understanding of their stories of pain, healing and hope. In yoga at closing, we often say Namaste, meaning the Divine in me honors the Divine in you. The teacher in me honors the teacher in you. The student in me honors the student in you. Roger and I truly learned from each person we got to know in the burn community.

One of the highlights for me was a deaf interpreter who taught me Stop Breathe Believe in sign language. You can view a quick video of Cheniene and me doing Stop Breathe Believe in sign language. I especially love how at the end of Believe, how you clasp your hands tightly together. What a beautiful picture of how we “hold” those things that are meaningful to us, such as our values and beliefs. What a beautiful picture of how to hold on to our green statements, our believe statements, or “believements.”

In addition to giving the keynote on Friday, I also had the opportunity to share with the youth (age 7-17). Oh my, what an age span for a breakout session! The challenge of being able to engage that group felt more overwhelming than the keynote presentation! I LOVE and ADORE kids of all ages and so wanted the time together to be beneficial. Thankfully, the program provided many trained volunteers and I could rely on their expertise in the discussions around the topics of Stop Breathe Believe and Overwhelmed Pie (which we changed to Overwhelmed Pizza for this audience). Each individual painted their own watercolor stoplights, played Beach Balls with their tables to Justin Timberlake’s song, “Can’t Stop the Feeling,” learned about Daniel Siegel’s hand model of the brain,

and had a 3-minute meditation of focusing on their breath while piano music played. The group was active and engaged. As a huge believer in getting feedback after presenting, I took it upon myself to ask a few of the youth what they learned, and was relieved and excited for them to share that they HAD learned and experienced something valuable. What a delight to share with the youth! 

I also led a breakout session with adults (ah, back to my comfort zone) in regards to What’s On Your Clothesline, Swirling Funnels and Perspective Glasses—all metaphors from various chapters of Stop Breathe Believe—as an opportunity to go deeper in the concept of re-wiring our thoughts, being aware of our feelings, and how we relate to our experiences with compassion.

The conference also included a talent show and a closing banquet—and then, much to Roger’s liking, a dance. What a joy to see survivors wear sleeveless attire and be open to being real and authentic about their scars, their stories, their courage. Roger and I were both challenged in our thinking so many times during the weekend. The resiliency, the wholeheartedness, the courage, and the perseverance of the survivors was remarkable. What an incredible experience to see the love of others shared so freely with one another. In the entry hall of our home is a framed chalkboard with the words, Love is a Verb.

At the Phoenix World Burn Congress, ‘Love is a Verb.’

The Phoenix World Burn Congress was founded by Alan Breslau, who was extensively burned in the crash of a commercial airliner in 1963. Following a visit to a young boy in a burn center, Alan realized the importance of peer support for those with burn injuries, and was inspired to establish one of the first burn support organizations in the United States. After many years of working with burn survivors, Alan officially incorporated the Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors in 1977. Here is a pic of us with Alan and his lovely wife, Delwyn.

If you know of a firefighter, burn survivor, someone who works in a burn unit, or a caregiver, please consider sponsoring them to participate in the Phoenix World Burn Congress next year. You can contact for more information. What can you do? Donate airline miles? Give a monetary donation? Sponsor someone from your community? Share this blog post so that others can hear about World Burn Congress?  Go for it—you’ve got what it takes to make a difference! 

And guess what? Next year the Phoenix World Burn Congress will be in Dallas, TX (Oct 4-7, 2017). I am sure that Dallas and all of Texas will roll out the barbeque eating, boot scootin’, Texas warm and friendly embrace and welcome to the burn survivor community. Roger and I will be there! 

In working on a short slideshow of my photos from the week, I serendipitously discovered the song, "For Good," from the musical Wicked.  The lyric that spoke to me was, "It well may be - That we will never meet again - In this lifetime - So let me say before we part - So much of me - Is made of what I learned from you - You'll be with me - Like a handprint on my heart."

I loved those words, and the "handprint on my heart" epitomized the experience.  Each of the survivors exemplify such courage, such vulnerability, such strength, such beauty, such authenticity, such resilience - all things that I so respect and admire in others.

Please enjoy watching the slideshow of meaningful moments from the 2016 World Burn Congress.

You Are Not Alone

"You are not alone" is one of the mantras that I often encourage others to embrace as a "green" statement or "believe" statement.  The value of sharing our own meaningful stories with one another is one of the most powerful ways of connecting and embracing courage to persevere during struggle.

The Phoenix Society for Burn Survivors is a community of burn survivors, their loved ones, health professionals, and firefighters that promotes sharing stories of healing and common experiences with one another.  I am both honored and humbled to be speaking at this year's Phoenix World Burn Congress, being held in Providence, Rhode Island.  Roger and I are grateful to be joining the participants in the workshops for several days and would love for you to join us on the journey as share via social media, facebook, instagram, and twitter.  I would love for you to follow along as I share about our experiences in Rhode Island!

Is Happy New Year Happy for You?

Navigating Post Holiday Blues with
Stop Breathe Believe to a More Intentional Way of Being — Questions for Reflection

What are you feeling today?  As we are driving home from our holiday vacation with our family, I am contemplating getting back to the “real world” tomorrow.  What feelings do the end of the holiday season stir up for you?

In looking at our new year through a holistic perspective, what do things look like for you emotionally, relationally, spiritually, financially, physically, intellectually, organizationally?

Emotionally there can be such a wide range of feelings that are stirred up during the holidays.  Maybe you are grateful for a time of deep connection with family and friends, or maybe you are drained from being a quiet person in a rowdy, loud, game-playing, crazy-fun kind of family, or maybe you live alone and are dreading going back to a quiet home and struggling with a sense of impending loneliness, or maybe you are sad that everyone seemed pre-occupied with their own world and didn’t give family time priority, or maybe you’ve focused on the holiday preparation and orchestration so much that you are relieved it’s all over and looking forward to the quiet of the winter season, or maybe you’re sad that your family didn’t get together this year.  Regardless of where you are emotionally today, it is healthy to be aware of what you are feeling and give some time and attention to those emotions.  The beauty of being mindful to our feelings is a depth of understanding that can guide us into the new year of living life abundantly.  Giving attention to both the highs and the lows of the season is a gift that can last all year long.  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe that whatever you are feeling, your feelings are important and valid. 

Relationally we may be grateful for deep, satisfying, healthy relationships—or we may be starving for some connection with others.  Often the holidays are a time that magnifies our realization of the emptiness or disappointment within various relational dynamics.   Possibly we are made aware of the consequences of our busy lifestyle that has drained some quality from our friendships—one leaky, busy day at a time as we review the year and look forward to a new year.  How do we want to choose to be intentional with our friendships and relationships in this new year?  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in the value and “worth the struggle” of connection with others.

Spiritually we may be peace-filled with times of significant joyful worship and time with God through the holiday season…or we may be recognizing there is something missing.  What is all of this about Christmas and Hanukkah being a spiritual holiday when it seems so commercialized?  Were we able to allow time with God or did the “business of Christmas” or the “busyness of Christmas” take over?  What is our intention for the life of our spirit in the new days, weeks, months, and year?  I ask that question because we can become big dreamers in looking ahead with our dreams and desires…but what will we do today?  How can I honor the spiritual interior landscape within me this next year? Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in the beauty of the mystery of spiritual depth within each of us.

Financially we may be startled into reality as we reluctantly open the credit card bill and see the effects of great advertising and the pressure to buy the perfect gift. Maybe we’re wishing we’d stuck with last year’s goal of creating a holiday budget before we went shopping, and experiencing the regret of getting caught in the moment of buying and buying and buying.  At what point do we slow down?  When is enough?  Often clients in my counseling office share frustration with the financial costs of the Norman Rockwell portrait of the perfect holiday gift giving and entertaining expenses.  How can I as an individual or we as a couple reflect and become more intentional in how to keep our values aligned with our actions during this frantic financial frenzy?  The principle of small steps to a secure financial portfolio is an integral part of any successful financial plan.  Planning may be the key, as it is often said, “We do not plan to fail, we simply fail to plan.”  Financial health takes time, energy, planning and intention.  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in small steps to get us where we want to be…and sometimes, small steps in getting us out of where we do not want to be.

Physically we may be stuffed!  Stuffed full of cookies, wonderful home cooking, catered office party fare, fast food grabbed on the road. And maybe this stuffed feeling is exacerbated by living in a part of the country where the season of the holidays is also the season of extreme cold, which interrupts your normal plans of being active outdoors.  This is the time when many of us want to do something different in the new year regarding our physical fitness. New year, new resolutions – there is no secret this is the time of year of full exercise classes and internet searches for the latest trend in diets and cleanses to get us “back on track”.   What would be the “fit bit” to get you started off to a healthier week, month or year?  I love the concept of the fit bit.  The consistency of a “bit” of “fit” is the key to healthy living.  Movement is important.  How can we be encouraged to increase our movement?  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in the power of a healthy start—we can always begin again.  One of my favorite new beginning statements is, “From this day forward I will….”

Intellectually, where do we want to be this time next year?  What do we want to learn more about?  How can we stimulate our brain in a new way?  I am excited to be going to a week-long workshop this month to delve into a topic that holds great curiosity for me.  Could it be that we could take small steps to challenge ourselves intellectually?  What would that look like for you?  Learning a new method of cooking?  Completing a Sudoku puzzle regularly?  Taking a course online or at a community college?  Exploring the library for a book in an area we know nothing about?  The opportunities are endless—but how do we get there?  Again, small steps in accomplishing a goal are the answer.  Goals that are realistic and measurable are most likely to be accomplished. How can I challenge and fill my mind with the adventure of learning?  Stop.  Breathe.  Believe that our minds are capable of expanding.

Organizationally our lives can easily slip into a conundrum— one stack at a time, one drawer at a time, one closet at a time. 

How is it that we organize our drawers, our closets, our desk, our computer, our time? The name “January” is derived from Janus, the god of gates and doorways, the god of beginnings and transitions, depicted with two faces looking in opposite directions, one forward and one back. As you step through the gateway into this fresh and shiny new year, keep a note of what makes you happy, and endeavor to seek out more of it in the months ahead.   Stop.  Breathe.  Believe in small steps—small steps of choosing how we will utilize our time and resources.

As we reflect on our patterns and ways of the last year and look ahead and contemplate the year to come, it can feel overwhelming to want to make multiple changes and create a more authentic lifestyle versus the hustle for worthiness that we can so easily get caught in. I come back to the small step principle.  Choose an area you would like to make changes in and be intentional in taking those small steps, one at a time, to reach your goal.

One practice that can be helpful in looking at designing your year to be the year you desire is Stop Breathe Believe, a simple process I created to facilitate the journey into mindful, wholehearted living. 

We all long to live wholeheartedly—with authenticity and joy, in a way that honors our true selves and brings our gifts into being.  But often, unhealthy thinking can get in the way.  Stop Breathe Believe helps us stop the stream of thoughts flowing through our minds and become aware of one thought that needs replacing, breathe our way to a state of calm openness, and then believe a compassionate truth statement.

You are invited to reflect on how you too can revolutionize your reactions and responses in relationship to yourself and to others. One step, one breath, one intention at a time.

Stop Breathe Believe can help you become healthier in your thinking, more intentional in your thoughts and behaviors, more aware of your feelings, and thus more mindful of the beauty of the present moment.  For 2015, let’s start becoming the wholehearted, joyful people we’re meant to be.


Stop Breathe Believe Gathering at West Des Moines Barnes & Noble RESCHEDULED

The Stop Breathe Believe event has been rescheduled due to the unexpected death of Roger’s mother, Wanda Jones.  Your understanding, love and prayers are much appreciated. Dianne and Roger will be back from Texas and excited to see you on Thursday, December 18th from 6:00 - 8:00 pm, Barnes and Noble, 4550 University Avenue, West Des Moines, Iowa.

Photos from the Omaha Meet the Author Gathering

We had a blast at Soul Desires Bookstore on Aug 9 ( I did a reading of Stop Breathe Believe, signed books and felt incredibly supported.

A HUGE thank you to Michelle Smith and Susan Davies for their great hospitality! And to Roger Jones for snapping photos!

Roger and I finished off the day of hiking at one of our favorite hiking spots in Loess Hills - loving the handicapped accessible trail! I loved the trail - because of the idea of it - but also, since I forgot my socks for my hiking boots - I was hiking in flip flops!

Photos from the Beaverdale Books Book Signing

Photos from the Beaverdale Books Book Signing

We had a blast at Beaverdale Books on July 11. I did a reading of Stop Breathe Believe, signed books and felt incredibly supported.

Big thanks to Alice Meyer of Beaverdale Books for hosting! Thank you, Nawal Ghali, for taking photos!

And, of course, to the many people who made this book possible, especially Catherine Knepper, Monica Ghali & Roger Jones — THANK YOU!

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