In honor of Alice Dawn (7/27/37-6/3/18)

The following was something that I wrote a number of years ago, but with the passing of my Stepmother today, I wanted to repost in honor of her.


Lake Benson, one of hundreds of fresh water lakes on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, has been a part of my life since I was fifteen when my Father and Stepmother (Dad and Dawn) bought a small, two-bedroom cabin on the lake.  It was their weekend getaway, and eventually became their full-time residence.  But the house itself was never the main draw.

Early in the morning, even before her first cup of coffee, Dawn would stand at the picture window in the kitchen looking down at the lake. “The lake is like glass this morning,” she would say with pleasure, then hurry to put on her modest one-piece suit.  She would walk down to the water, onto the floating dock, and sit on the edge kicking her feet in the water.  Splashes of water on her arms,  face, and hair came first, then she would stand up and execute a clean dive into the water.  I would observe her ritual from my dry position on the dock, usually unwilling to brave the water that early.  After a few strokes to warm up in the bracing cold water, she would roll over onto her back and float, weightless and free, feeling the silken lap of the water, listening to the morning bird song.  After a time she would swim with smooth, confident strokes halfway across the lake, sometimes farther, then slowly roll onto her sides and do a side crawl on the way back.   After about 15 minutes, she would  haul herself up the short ladder onto the float, grab her waiting towel, and chat with me while she dried off.  Usually she couldn’t hear me, as her hearing aid was waiting for her up at the house, but she would talk to me.  She would tell me about how much she loved swimming, how refreshing the water was, how much she loved the lake – all of which was self-evident because joy shone through every pore of her body.   It was in these moments that she seemed the happiest.

It has been years since I have seen Dawn swim.  She is in her early 70’s now and chronic pain due to degenerated discs in her back and bad shoulders have robbed her of the simple pleasure of swimming.  She rarely even ventures down the hill to the lake anymore.  It is bittersweet for her, I imagine, to have in her front yard a constant reminder of something that once brought her so much joy, now forever out of her reach.

I stand on the dock for some time, remembering her morning swims, feeling blessed to have borne witness to them.  This summer is to be their last at Benson Lake.  The home has been sold and they are beginning the exhausting process of packing up 25 years worth of belongings.  Once again, I am here to bear witness; to help them say goodbye to a part of their life that brought them much joy, much peace, and much happiness.

The lake is like glass this morning.  And my heart aches.


Rest in Peace, Dawn.

A Reminder

Yesterday, my cousin called me and sang happy birthday to me on my voicemail. For some reason, she reminded me so much of my Dad and the kind of messages he used to leave me that it made me cry. It’s my first birthday without him. These moments hit me from time to time. I know it’s part of the process of grieving, but they are still hard. I’m grateful for them, in a way. It reminds me of how much I was loved…and how much I loved in return. Miss you, Dad.

The Next Step

This is harder than I thought it would be.

But here goes.

I am having bariatric surgery on June 27th.  I am undergoing the gastric sleeve procedure, which essentially takes away most of my stomach. What this tool accomplishes is that it takes far less food to feel full, so one intakes far few calories. Protein first, vegetables second, and carbs hardly ever. I have been approved through the VA to have this surgery because of my morbid obesity as well as several other co-morbidities.  Christopher (who has been extremely supportive) and I will travel to Palo Alto, California on the 25th of June.  This decision is about my health and not my waistline.  It’s about being around for my family for the long run.    It is a decision that has been years in the making and one whose time has come.

I’ve made many lifestyle changes (including incorporating regular exercise) in the past couple of years that, I believe, have helped me realize that positive change is possible and sustainable.  However, the most important changes have been mental and emotional. After years of beating myself up about every little thing, I have now learned how NOT to treat myself like the enemy.  Who knew that self-compassion and self- acceptance would be the game-changer?  Carl Rogers once wrote “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” I have found this to be true.

As I move closer to this transition, I thank you in advance for your prayers and positive thoughts. I’ll be back to check in periodically along the journey.





Journey toward Worthiness

Every month, our Executive Director writes a column for Catholic Charities for the Idaho Catholic Register (a monthly state-wide Catholic newspaper).  Recently, he’s begun asking different staff members to contribute and I was asked to write the column for May.  I was given latitude regarding the theme/topic, but needed to tie in how CCI seeks to serve the community.  Here’s what I wrote:

As mental health counselors at Catholic Charities of Idaho, we see people every day who struggle with depression and anxiety. So often, when the layers are gently peeled away, we find that at the core of those feelings is a painful belief that they are “not enough.”

“Enough,” to most of us, means, “I am a human being with flaws, but still worthy of love.” But to others it can mean that they must be something more than what they are in order to be worthy of love, especially God’s love.

People respond in different ways to not feeling like they are enough. Some pour themselves out for others, like water from a tap, in an effort to earn worthiness. But any resulting good feelings are short-lived. Others stay as small and as invisible as possible, so as to avoid drawing attention to their perceived defectiveness. Many seek to dull the excruciating shame of feeling “not enough” with substances or other problematic behaviors.

All this leads to the question: How does one develop a sense of worthiness? While there is no simple answer, an important first step is to explore what that sense of unworthiness looks like in one’s life.

By way of example, and with a sincere wish to shine a light on the healing process, I offer a glimpse into what that journey has looked like in my life.

Seven years ago, I made the pilgrimage to Camino de Santiago de Compostela (Way of St. James in Spain). I was an inexperienced, out-of-shape, 40-year-old hiker hefting a too-heavy backpack.

One day, I found myself struggling on a mountain path. I was trying to keep moving – while gasping for breath and choking back tears – when my friend and walking companion insisted on swapping packs with me. I felt ashamed and guilty and had a hard time accepting her generosity. But my friend was being Christ for me so beautifully in that moment that something shifted within my heart and I agreed to trade packs.

As I strapped on her much-smaller pack, I noticed that I also carried a heavy burden of unworthiness, of “not enough-ness.” I began to wonder, perhaps for the first time, why this was so.

After our return, I sought counseling and began to explore what my life might be like if, maybe just maybe, I could learn to accept and trust that kind of love instead of pushing it away. Counseling helped me see that my internal fun-house-mirror perception of myself was a distorted image of who I am and what I am worth. Time spent in front of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament helped me see how sad it made Him when I pushed away His love because, in a perverse form of pride, I deemed myself unworthy of it. I also began to see how the enemy benefitted from keeping me small and discouraged.

Thanks be to God (and the counselor he sent me), I began to allow myself to not only accept His love for me, but to really feel it flow through me. An unexpected side effect : Once I could conceive of myself as worthy of love, I could begin to finally fully allow the love that others offered me to sink in. The water that used to run down the drain was now being captured and it eventually formed a deep well of gratitude and peace. Subsequently, my actions toward others flowed from this place of gratitude for His abundant love rather than from a desperate attempt to earn it.

It is perhaps safe to say that the journey toward worthiness is, at heart, a spiritual endeavor. Counseling can be an important part of this process by cultivating a safe place to uncover and question those basic assumptions we make about ourselves.

The counselors at Catholic Charities of Idaho seek to meet people where they are on their respective mountains, to recognize and respond to suffering with empathy and compassion, and to help people begin to reflect on the obstacles that stand between them and the vital recognition that they are “enough.”

If you have questions about the counseling process or would like to make an appointment with a Catholic Charities counselor, please call us at 208-350-7487.

{tagline ITAL] Cathleen Booth is one of two full-time staff counselors at Catholic Charities of Idaho.




I’ve been in California over the past few days visiting my Dad.  This afternoon, I asked him if there was anything he wanted.  He smiled mischievously and said “You know what I could really go for?  A beer.”  I hemmed and hawed for a few minutes.  “What happens if they catch us? Could they kick you out of the facility?” He wheedled, using that little boy face/voice that he always uses when trying to get his way.  Finally, I just thought “Why the hell not?”

As it happens, his nursing home is in a fairly sketchy part of town and the liquor store happens to be right across the street.  I stood there in front of that cooler for a while trying to decide what kind of beer to buy for a man who is counting his remaining time in weeks.  This could be the last beer of his life. Better make it a good one.  No pressure.

I told the lady behind the counter my plan and she became a willing co-conspirator in my plan to sneak alcohol into the nursing home.  Something tells me she may have even done this a time or two before.  I walked back across the street with a small black plastic bag and smuggled my contraband into my dad’s room.  Thankfully, his roommate was absent for a while so there were no witnesses.  I opened the beer and passed it to Dad. He took a long sip.  “How does it taste,” I asked.  “Heavenly,” he responded with a big grin. A few sips more and he had had his fill.  I dumped the rest of the beer in the sink, rinsed the sink and the can carefully with  water to get rid of the smell, then buried the evidence at the bottom of my purse.   It felt good to share this little escapade with my Dad. It reminded me of when I was a kid and he used to let me take the wheel of his car when he was driving sometimes.  It was a little dangerous, but also made me feel really alive. Cheers, everyone.


The Room

Spring has finally sprung here in Boise, although we are still having very cool mornings. Alas, my rose bushes did not survive the winter and will need to be replaced.  But everything else (including the lawn) seems to have survived the epic snowfalls of this past winter, thanks be to God.  It’s such an interesting juxtaposition in my life right now…watching the trees and the flowers bloom while holding in my heart the fact that my Dad is dying.  It’s bittersweet and hard…and all I can do is pay attention to every moment in an effort to make time move more slowly. 

My Dad has received a terminal diagnosis – Stage 4 bladder cancer.  The cancer is characterized as “aggressive” and “high grade” and it has spread to the bones of his pelvis and his lungs.  He sleeps most of the time now. Fortunately, he doesn’t seem to be in any pain. When he is awake, he seems reasonably lucid on the phone, but he’s also not all there.  Related to a series of confusing mis-communications from doctors and nurse practitioners, he is paranoid and refusing hospice for now. Please pray for clarity and peace for all concerned. 

I feel as if this experience – and the sorrow that accompanies it – has clasped me firmly by the hand and is pulling me into a new room within myself.  I see now that the room has always been there, waiting for me, though it has been out of my awareness until now because losing one or both of my parents has always been an abstract notion.  The door stands ajar now, refusing to be ignored.   What I find, much to my surprise, is that there are people in that room.  People who have had to walk through their own doors of loss.  People who are on intimate terms with this pain and who reach out in love, compassion, and generosity.  People for whom my heart will always be immensely grateful.

A Fresh Start

cropped-img_37711.jpgIt’s been on my heart and mind to do some writing lately, but it seemed strange to write under the Notes from the Netherlands moniker as we have returned to the United States. Mercy & Grace seemed a worthy sequel in terms of a name.

So why Mercy & Grace?  Well, those of you who have followed my writing over the years may remember that these were the names of my trusty boots with which I walked the Camino de Santiago in 2011.  However, these words have come to encompass so much of what I have experienced in my life. I want to provide a glimpse of that here today.

Three years ago, finding an internship to complete my master’s program overseas seemed like a hopeless cause.  The Army hospital in Landstuhl wanted social workers, the local substance abuse counseling wasn’t taking interns, and a promising lead at a local behavioral health hospital with an English speaking international program withered on the vine.  In desperation, I finally turned my thoughts to the idea of taking an internship in the U.S.  I called dozens of places in Boise but no one wanted to consider a counseling intern who wasn’t from one of the local universities.  I prayed and prayed.  “Okay God,” I said, “You’re the one who set me on this path to be a counselor, right? What’s the deal? I’m confused!”

Eventually, a door opened.

One door.

At Catholic Charities of Idaho.

God, in his own perfect time,  held open the perfect door for me.

Naturally, I responded to this Grace by flipping, flopping, flailing, and fretting to my family and friends…”But what does it MEAN about me if I leave my family for 9 months?” Or the even darker thought  “What if my family is happier/better off without me?”


Fortunately, by the grace and mercy of God (and the patience of said family and friends) – I was able to GET OVER MY DAMN SELF and say yes. “Yes, Lord, I will walk through this door that you have opened for me.  I am scared and I don’t know if it’s the right thing to do…but I will do it.”

The river of blessings that flowed from that “Yes” is nothing short of astonishing.


It’s like watching hundreds of painstakingly-placed dominoes fall in perfect order.

To list all of these blessings strikes me as unseemly or boastful although I know one can never give as much glory and credit to God as he deserves.  Suffice it to say that I am grateful every day when I see my husband happy, fulfilled, and valued in his new job teaching theatre as well as being in close proximity to his parents and siblings.  I am grateful every day to see all my girls so well-adjusted to their new life in the U.S.  And lastly, I am grateful every day to be doing work that allows me to use the gifts that God has given me in the way I believe he has called me to do so.

Mercy & Grace indeed.