When I Grow Up, I Want to be Danielle Montiel: A Year of Being.  Together.


By way of introduction, Danielle is a good friend.  We’ve known each other for a long time, we did Thanksgiving one year at her parent’s house, primarily because she married one of my best friend’s brothers who had invited us along.  Fast forward about five years and we spent two years in a couple’s group with several others, we camped and travelled once or twice a year with our families this last decade, we had a deep appreciation for one another and I felt “goodness” in my soul when I saw her but we weren’t necessarily in weekly or even biweekly contact until this past year.

A few things you should know:

She’s amazing – seriously.  Before cancer, she could do handstands and back flips- leftovers from being a gymnast (yes, in her 40s).  She was a gourmet chef effortlessly, whipping up whatever was in the kitchen and having it taste divine.  She was profound, observant, kind, generous, intelligent and had a combination of laid back and disciplined that few people could pull off.  She was so gracious in how she approached situations and people.  She single-handedly got a new charter school, the joint vision of her brother-in-law, Steve Porter and good friend, Jason Baehr, up and running.  She was a doer and yet she appeared to flow so easily between the doing and being, recognizing that while one does, one needs to be.

This past year, she transformed me spiritually without having a clue she was doing so (I didn’t have a clue in the middle of it).  I’d committed to a year of practicing the spiritual discipline of being and she and I together were engaged in a touch therapy I’d been briefly trained in (a modality I practice with friends, not professionally.).  She showed me the beauty of dependence, of asking for one’s needs, of moving slow together and not rushing to “get somewhere.”  See what was so clear to Danielle, but what I didn’t get (at least initially) was that our time was about being. I wanted results – a better sleep, loosened muscles, coordination improvement after her brain surgery.  But for Danielle we never tried to get somewhere, she let me know she enjoyed the company, the nurturing.

What I gut-achingly miss the most is feeling her body.  I learned her arms, her legs, her back.  Over the months, we grieved, through our acknowledgement of changes, ineffective chemotherapy, which resulted in the cancer stealing her strength because breathing was compromised not to mention the chemotherapy and radiation side effects.  Much later, we grieved the arrival of the breathing machine and what it meant at the same time we rejoiced she could breathe better.  We grieved that the spiritual images given to us during our time together never promised healing.  The last image she spoke about (our last months had very little speaking in them) was a dollhouse with open rooms that she could come and go in without being trapped in one place (possibly a foreshadowing of her visiting us from “behind the veil).”

I confess, I wanted to be miraculous.  I wanted her to heal so we didn’t have to live with worry.  I wasn’t so naive that I declared it to be true – that God was going to heal her through our time together.  While my posture might leave doubters declaring, “No wonder she didn’t heal oh ye of little faith,” I don’t think either one of us felt that way.  We were united in the very core of why we were together – to seek God’s will and to trust that He was with us as we were with each other.

I doubt I’ve done something more important in my life than sit with Danielle – listening. She showed me a part of myself that has rarely shown itself – being while helpless, dependent, powerlessness, with absolutely no power or control to change the outcome, only to impact the process. I needed her to show me our time wasn’t worthless even though I couldn’t heal her.  Even when I couldn’t help her sleep through the night, she gave herself over to the process and showed me what it was like to enjoy one another while being dependent and vulnerable.  I see now, our time together was an intimate pause in our lives.  It grew me.  Facing into death with her – feeling the muscle decrease in her arms, hearing the struggled breath, and shifting movements – going from lying flat, to being propped up by pillows, to sitting in a recliner, to siting straight up in a chair – all of these things we faced together – acknowledging with words and without what this meant for God answering our prayers.  Oh we hoped – we asked for healing for the chance to once again lie on the massage table but we didn’t proclaim false hopes or optimism like, “I can’t wait until you are strong enough to walk Juneau again” or “I can’t wait for this year’s camping trip when you will have enough breath to go on some longer hikes.”  In this, we were steadfast, “God’s will be done and we invite His Presence to be with us.”  The last several months we were together, she slept while I worked though she asked to be woken up each time so she could spend more time with her family after I was done.

I learned from Danielle that my beginner’s training was sufficient for us.  Danielle taught me that I didn’t need any special tricks or powers to pull out of a bag – what I was doing was good enough.  I didn’t believe her at first.  Wasn’t there something I could do to miraculously bring more comfort to her body?  Shouldn’t I know more?  When her body had declined to a place we couldn’t use the massage table I had a perfectionist panic – What if I don’t know what I’m doing and hurt her?  So I said to her, “okay – if things get too hot (my hands combined with the energy in her body creates heat), you let me know and I’ll stop.”  She very gently looked me in the eyes and said, “You’ve never hurt me before.  I doubt it will happen now.”  I met her gaze, nodded and answered with a bit of guilt in my eye for having been trapped once again by my perfectionism and said, “True.  Let’s get you more relaxed.”  See here with Danielle I was finally bearing witness and embodying what I’ve known for decades — being is about the good enough – otherwise what takes the place of being is often an anxiety that is focused on performance and outcome.  Perfectionism or focusing on “doing it perfect” can’t digest the present moment; instead it’s there to eat up the present moment for something obtained in the future.

Danielle also spoke into me about an identity I hadn’t claimed in myself.  So casually she shared with me a story about a Christian healer she’d gone to hear speak and was greeted by a member of our congregation via a handshake.  Danielle said to her, “You have warm hands like Kimber, you must be a healer.”  The gal had laughed and said, “I’m a massage therapist.”  I haven’t experienced my hands the same since.  See I do talk therapy professionally, I only do touch therapy as a hobby, yet here she was calling something into being for me.  “I’m a healer.”  I wear this declaration now as true.

My deepest regret is I didn’t share this with her because I didn’t know it until she’d died.  See I feel as if I’ve lost a patient who was a dear friend.  But it’s my hands that miss her the most.  They long to be with her, to touch her feet and create energy shifts up her body, to feel warmth, not the inability to create warmth as I experienced as she passed from this world when my hand was on her leg and I felt only coldness.  It was then that I knew what I’d miss the very most – being.  Together.

My year of being has made its way into my bones.  I have a category, a new way of existing.  I’m grateful.

Danielle, if your reading this now — I miss our times together.  You’ve marked me, changed me for good.  I love you, friend and please visit me – with Amy.  And my son.

Yearly Reflections

What did you do in 2017 that you had never done before?

I walked 39 miles in the Avon Walk for a Cancer Cure this September.

Did you keep your New Year’s Resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I kept almost all of my New Year’s Resolutions except for my blogging goals.  I’ve had to rethink my blog because my writing time has mostly gone towards finishing my memoir, which I’m still working on.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth? (I can’t fix these numbers without a great deal of time so please forgive them.)

Cousin Emily Joy gave birth to a baby girl, Lila Joy, in December, whom we haven’t had the joy of meeting yet.

2.  Did anyone close to you die?

No but a church family, whom we love, lost a son in April and several good friends lost a parent this year.

  1. What countries or new places did you visit?

Had a business trip to Midland ,Texas and I’d never been to West Texas as well as Grass Valley in Northern California.

  1. What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

Consistent paper organization and zero email box.  At the end of 2017, I finally got my email box down to zero and have a new mail/paper system.  The challenge for me is to keep up my system and continue to remain organized.


What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

April 16th – the day Dylan Stump died.  Although I didn’t know Dylan, I love his parents, who have been a part of my church family for 20 years.  Death of a 19 year old devastates us all.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Eliminating the hip pain I’ve had for nine years.  I have lived with hip pain of an unknown cause since 2008.  I’ve tried more interventions than you would care to read about.  The last piece of the puzzle was a massage therapist recognizing my gait was off, which led to a discovery that my left toe had been jammed for years – creating issues all the way up to my hip.  Once I got the toe moving (which took my toe from no pain to tremendous pain), it took four months of daily stretches before I eliminated the pain – (toe and hip).  I identify this as my biggest achievement because while I was in the middle of it I had no idea whether I could live without pain and it was a exercise in grit and perseverance.  There was no glory, no prize, no internal motivation except for a determination to keep trying to live pain-free.  What kept me going: regular appointments with my skilled massage therapist for deep tissue release, stretching and exercise routine created by my chiropractor from regular assessments of which muscles were overworking or weak, taking turmeric capsules and asking for external accountability to stretch daily.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

My garage is still a mess and I didn’t finish my memoir.  I made progress – it’s three parts and I’m 100% complete with part 1, 80% done with part 2 and 5% done with part 3.

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

In addition to hip pain, I had a shoulder injury from a snow weekend that turned out to be deeply inflamed and required creative modifications and finding natural anti inflammatories (turmeric, fish oil) to help reduce the swelling.

  1. What’s the best thing you bought?

I love my new car – A Chevy Bolt.  I love never going to the gas pump but most of all, I love my back-up camera which gives me a bird’s eye view so I can see the LINES.  As someone who loves parallel parking, it has taken my game to elite status.

  1. Where did most of your money go?

Mortgage – I live in Southern California need I say anything else.

  1. What did you get really excited about?

I got excited about developing organizational habits in order to stay organized, efficient and eliminate avoidable stress – and so far have maintained it for about 45 days so I’m encouraged I’ll be able to maintain it.  I have also been excited about creating fun and meaningful memories with my children.  My daughter, a freshman in high school, is a concrete reminder of how little time I’ll have with everyone living at home.


  1. What song will always remind you of 2017?

‘Issues’ by Julia Michaels epitomizes my mental world this year.  The older I get, the more I realize I will forever fall short of the type of character I’d love to possess.  What’s different for me now, is I’ve come to accept myself within my limitations – impatience, at times intellectually arrogant, undisciplined in some areas, and critical.  I’ve developed enough self-compassion not to like these things that show themselves when I’m at my worst but at the same time, not have an overactive internal judge show up when they’ve been present.

  1. Compared to this time last year, are you:

—happier or sadder?

Neither…I’ve had ups and downs.  Up – celebrating my 20 year anniversary and we’ve never been happier.  Down – walking with a friend who has stage 4 breast cancer.  This is a difficult road to journey and we’ve had a lot of sad news to navigate as treatment after treatment has failed.

— thinner or fatter?

fatter – hormones and carbs caught up to me.  I gained more weight this year than I ever have.  Luckily, with the help of my nutritionist who I’ve used for pre-diabetes threat, we discovered how to eliminate the weight gain.  Now the job of losing the weight I gained…more positive results regarding health though is I am no longer pre-diabetic – dropped my levels .2.

— richer or poorer?

richer.  Business was good this year and we live with a budget.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Read great fiction books.  This year I didn’t read a ton of books.  Most of my reading time was spent on professional non-fiction and magazine articles.

17.  What do you wish you’d done less of?

Driving.  Last spring I spent 20 hours a week on the road.  My son’s school is about 30 minutes away, which gives he and I time to listen to non-fiction audio books together, which we both enjoy.  But this year, I may try to sneak in some juvenile fiction.  (He may not go for it -non-fiction is his favorite.)

18. How did you spend Christmas?

I spent Christmas in my hometown in the mountains of Washington. It was a splendid white Christmas with lots of family time.

19.  What was your favorite TV program?

I don’t watch much television except sports (can’t wait for the Olympics!) However, I have watched a few things on Netflix this year.  Though I’m only on season 2, I’ve enjoyed Parenthood – love the relational and family dynamics at play.  Confession: I really want to watch This is Us but I haven’t spent the time figuring out how to watch it since I’m behind and need to first watch the first season.

20.  What were your favorite books of the year?

Though an older book, I read The Martian by Andy Weir for the first time and loved it so much, I had my husband read it (edited) to my nine year old who LOVED it, too.  The tone and style of the narrator captured me and drew me in as he overcame trial after trial.  Other favorites were How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overcoming Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success by Julie Lythcott-Haims (highly recommend for parents with middle school students or above) and I reread and enjoyed the newest edition of John Gottman’s The Seven Principles for Making Healthy Marriage Work.  (great reminder of what helps cultivate intimacy and goodness in marriage.)  

21.  What was your favorite music from this year?

My favorite album was Imagine Dragons’ Evolve and Ed Sheeran’s Divide.   I’ve also been enjoying U2’s new album, Songs of Experience but haven’t listened enough to say it’s a favorite.  Songs on repeat were ‘Believer” by Imagine Dragons, “Back to the Garden” by Crowder, ‘If I Told You’ by Darius Rucker and ‘Walk on Water’ by Thirty Seconds to Mars.  I indulged in about six concerts this year – favorite large concert was U2’s Joshua Tree Tour and smaller venue was Needtobreathe’s House of Blues concert.

22.  What was your favorite film of the year?

Again…Star Wars.  Though The Last Jedi has had mixed reviews, I really enjoyed it.  I know this isn’t a deep, rich choice but when I go to the movies, I long to escape some of the realities in the really world.  So, living in this world that I’ve known since my childhood, satisfies my soul.  I will confess as I sat in the theater during the credits (one of five of us who stayed to the end), I couldn’t help shed a few tears about Carrie Fisher’s death.  I grieve we’ll miss a “good-bye” film with her like we’ve had with Harrison Ford and Mark Hamill.

23.  What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I had a small gathering of friends the night of my birthday.  I worked my birthday weekend in Texas so wanted to keep it low key but meaningful.

24.  What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Having a personal cook.  Making meals at the end of the day and having prepared lunch was a challenge this year.  Loved ordering Blue Apron to help me out when I was in a pinch to buy ingredients for a yummy meal.

25.  How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Boho – still.  :).  I have yet to give up bright colors.  I enjoy bohemian style, one of a kind, comfortable clothing.  I love supporting LA designers and haunting sample sales occasionally where a person can find unique items that never made it to mass production.  “Comfortable feet” was a value — purchasing several styles of “non-athletic” tennis shoes – white Eccos, red Munros, gray and black Josef Seibels.

26. What kept you sane?

Keeping my calendar steady but not over committed as well as learning how to manage all the information coming at me that needs to be organized and kept track of…definitely hoping to continue to improve this type of organization.

2017 Day Timer

27.  Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

Be present in the moments you have.  Live well and full.  You never know when your life is going to be turned upside down.

28.  What new habit are you developing to decrease your environmental footprint?

We purchased metal and glass straws in order to decrease our straw use.  In the US, we use 500 million straws every day.  For the last 15 years, I have made different choices, created habits in order to help my environmental footprint.  I realize I’m only one person but I’m modeling for my children how to think outside of their own convenience, ease or financial benefit.  Some of our choices over the years have been: changing out our gas vehicles for alternative fuel, reusable bags (for the last 10 years), for a year – buying new clothing from only social and environmental justice sources but mostly buying from consignment stores, don’t buy from the $1.00 bins at Target – almost guaranteed – fair wages and/or environment impact isn’t being considered for cheap items, fair trade chocolate versus commercial chocolate, using cloth napkins and towels instead of paper napkins and paper towels and changing out chemical cleaners with environmentally “pure” cleaners.

Hope your new year is starting well!