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Episode 35: Wintering with Charli


Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast.  This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.

I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.



So for this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast, I’m absolutely delighted to be joined by Charli – do you want to introduce yourself Charli?

Charli: Hi, yes, I’m Charli, I’m predominantly a wife and a mum to 2 boys who are my everything right now, family is just the most important thing.

Catherine: We were chatting, we meet on a saturday for a sort of prayer-y breakfast-y thing and on the Autumn morning this Saturday we were talking about trees, weren’t we, and how trees lose their leaves, do you want to just talk a little bit about what you’d brought to share around that?

Charli: well actually I hadn’t brought anything to share, but I just was able to have an opportunity to say something, and I remember how trees have to lose their leaves because if they held onto them through the winter, the amount of water that is in the leaf itself would freeze, and that process of the leaves freezing would actually kill the tree. So the trees lose their leaves so that they can stay alive through the ice and through the winter.

Catherine: That really resonated with me, because actually I’ve known a lot of people, and you would be one of them, who sometimes get to the points where life is in a season of winter, really, and it feels like things are being stripped away. So I was chatting to someone fairly recently who has been incredibly active in church. So she and her family have been an absolute stalwart at the church that she's part of. And then she went through a season where it felt like everything was disappearing. So where is my opportunity for mission? Where is my option to do things for God? Doesn't seem to be here, but actually at the same time, she’d got really significant things going on. So really tricky things going on with husband with some of her kids and a huge amount of pressure. As you were sharing that, it struck me that actually, leaves disappearing from trees, that sense of things being stripped back is not a bad thing at all 'cause you kind of need that in order to go through the winter.

Charli: Yeah

Catherine: And I think I've experienced that also, 'cause my two adopted boys, they went through a period where they really really needed a lot of support. They were having trouble with school, and they were having trouble emotionally. There are things at home that were difficult and it almost felt to me, like there had been this stripping away of stuff and a lot of things I've been doing before, it just was not possible to do anymore. And a lot of that stuff disappeared, but actually it needed to in order to kind of get through that period which really felt like winter. But actually I think that there's a great deal of God’s grace in that and then that struck me that actually your story over the last couple of years has been a bit similar, hasn’t it?

Charli: Yes, very similar. I was very much a human doing, not a human being and I sought my identity prior to what we've been through, in everything I did. I was sign language interpreter for the Staffordshire County Council, and I was a director of a brand new project, part of the church I went to, Saint Johns. There was a massive project and I was so excited about it, opening three shops up in Burslem, a place in Stoke-on-Trent, and still running. And I was also very much involved in  the church I went to. I was on the leadership team and I was just constantly on the go. The kids and my husband were kind of on the back burner because I was so busy just doing, doing, doing and it took a big wake up call, a kind of crisis in the family, for me to realise that I’d gotta drop all of it. It wasn't easy to do that because it's, as I say, my identity. I resisted quite a lot. I was almost in denial about what was happening at home for a long while, not acknowledging it, and I had to have somebody point it out to me very clearly that something needed to give and I needed to stop doing as much. So the first thing that went was the directorship of the charity, that was last summer, and then things got worse at home. One of my kids really struggling with school and I realised that I needed to give a lot more of my time to this and I think from giving up the directorship I was able to see. So I stopped even going to church. And then by January I knew I couldn't do work anymore and I was getting phone call after phone call from school and I just phoned work one day and said “I can’t do this any more, I’m not coming in”. They said “well have a break”. Which really,I should have gone on the sick or something maybe. But I just went with what the boss said, I had this break and eventually we decided to pull my son out of school for his own mental health and I phoned work and said I’m not coming back. Which is a big decision to make and when that is your whole identity to then have to reestablish who I am and what my priorities are. But actually it’s the best thing I could have ever done. And it's been great to be at home and be with my family and be a human being. 

Catherine: Yeah, yeah. There are lots of questions going through my head in response to all of that. I really identified with the school thing and I wonder whether it’s worth exploring that a bit. Because I think you are not by any means the only person who's got to the point where school becomes really difficult, and I think there's something about the way that school views children – or appears to, I don't think – when you speak to individual teachers then they would absolutely tell you that “each child is an individual” and “we should value everybody for who they are” but actually that’s often not the experience that once that individual teacher is in the midst of an institution and culture, that’s often not the experience that we have, is it?

Charli: Yeah. And actually, you know, a lot of my former employment was in schools. So I was very much part of the institution and saw it from a completely different angle as from a parent. And it has been quite difficult to accept what happened. And I didn't think I would ever end up pulling a child out of school, but they just couldn't manage it. And the school, you know, we had meetings and they wanted to help. They appeared to want to help, and because they weren’t prepared to change their system of, it’s a punitive system and it was that that was causing the major, major problem. They weren’t prepared to be flexible with that. Catherine: Yeah, there's a theme around being and doing I think that would probably run through our conversation quite a lot and one of my observations is that the way that we try and get children to confirm in terms of what they do, they're doing, their behaviour is all about the behaviour and none of it is about “who is the person in the middle of this and what is happening to them?” So my boys now have tutors coming into the home, because we crashed and burned at a number of educational establishments for a variety of reasons. Because of their early history, there are lots of things about being in that environment that they really struggled with. My younger son in particular, his way of trying to cope with that was to do things that didn't fit with the system and that would get into trouble. You will see the star chart and they have a traffic light system. *laughs* Charli is grimacing and twitching! But yeah, when he was very small, there was this chart with the sunshine and then it was a sad cloud and they would put the children's names on either the sunshine or the sad cloud. And every single day my youngest son's name was on the cloud and it was because they were watching his outward behaviour and they weren't listening to what's going on inside of him. I guess because they’ve got lots of kids to manage.

Charli: Yeah, I hear it all the time now. A lot of the groups I’ve joined on Facebook say how detrimental those reward charts are to children who are struggling. And what struck me, something I read about the children who are actually at the top, who are on the sunshine in your case, are living in a state of anxiety because they're terrified that one day the whole class is going to see that their name’s going to drop down out of that sunshine. So it's not only damaging and negative for the young people that are on the cloud, but also those high achievers at the top. It's causing them anxiety too. When I actually read this, it’s something we’ve used, we’ve used behaviour charts with our kids because that’s what you do as good parents to try and get positive behaviour. It wasn't until I read this I thought, “how damaging to all kids those behavioural reward charts are.” And they’re still used so much!

Catherine: They are and actually when children have a really traumatic early start and they have attachment difficulties, which is kind of the root of –  we did a podcast about attachment, I can’t remember which number it was but there was. Actually those early difficulties leave children with this kind of internal sense of not having self worth and feeling really scared about the fact that they don't feel like they fit or they belong. And there are two ways that that manifests itself. So one way is the child who is engaging in lots of attention seeking behaviour and lots of kind of ‘out there’ being a bit chaotic. But the other way that it manifests, and what you were saying brings it to mind for me, the other way it manifests is that there are children who daren’t put a foot wrong. There were some who were definitely putting a foot wrong and making a lot of noise because they want to make sure they don't lose the attention of the adults in their lives. And that's often the children who come from a really chaotic and abusive background where you can’t predict. “If I make sure that you don't lose sight of me then I know that you won’t stop caring for me. But the other end of the spectrum is those who have come from a background which might have been abusive or neglectful but in a really predictable way. It didn't matter what they did, it didn't matter how much they acted out, nobody was going to pay attention and those people end up being hyper, hyper good. And so I know a number of people who will say of their children that they will ‘act up’ and they ‘won’t put a foot wrong’, but quite often they've got that high sense of anxiety. You’ve heard about that Coke bottle analogy, that they're holding it in and holding it in and holding it in, and making sure that in that situation where their name might end up on the cloud they never put a foot wrong, but the moment they walk through the door where they feel a bit safer, all hell breaks loose because I've been holding in this pressure. It's like somebody’s been shaking a Coke bottle all day. And then they've got to take the lid off.

Charli: Which is kind of what we were getting. Not for those reasons for what their life is like but I think just holding it together all day when my son got home he exploded. It was getting to the point he couldn’t hold it together in school anymore either, so even though it wasn’t happening as bad at school, it wasn't causing too much of a  disruption, it was causing a bit of disruption 'cause obviously there was an issue with school, but what we were getting home was unbearable. We couldn't continue living, experiencing that day in, day out to the point where my youngest son was having to go and stay at friends and families house to ensure their safety.

Catherine: Yeah, 'cause the level of stress they’re experiencing from school, the level of stress it, just becomes unbearable. And that kind of needing to hold things together. It happens with children, with all kinds of different special needs, with neurodivergence. But if the way that school is set up just doesn't fit with what you need, your essential who you are, what you need is different, then it becomes incredibly difficult. And the other thing that I was thinking was that actually it's really stressful as a parent because you get the sense that your performance as parent, will reflect on who you are and how people see you. And the outward behaviour of your kids is the way that people will judge you and who you are.

Charli: Definitely. You just feel that everybody thinks this behaviour, this outburst is down to poor parenting. And I actually remember that within working in the education system, young people that were disruptive and behaviours weren’t acceptable and a lot of people automatically think it's down to parenting. And I was one of these people, hands up. I thought that too and it wasn't till I got a child that was struggling to cope and the way they were manifesting things was through bad behaviour, as if it was a cry for attention almost. I realised it's not parenting at all and I think a lot of parents get gas-lit in those circumstances. That it is them that is the problem when they are absolutely struggling to do the very best they can for these kids, but it's still not working and through no fault of their own and they end up, the parents end up like I know I did, exhausted and burnt out and every phone call, it's like a trigger. “Oh no, What's happening now and how am I going to be judged for this new thing that we're facing?” It's really difficult. 

Catherine: Yeah. And it kind of hits really deep, doesn't it, that sense of being shamed, I think. 

Charli: Yeah, the walk of shame when you've been called in because something happened again.

Catherine: I remember absolutely dreading queuing up outside the school when mine were at primary school, waiting for them to come out because I would need to stand amongst other parents and I never felt like I fitted, I felt very judged. And some of that might have been in my head, but some of it wasn't. I remember trying to find for my oldest son, at one point, somebody to go for a day out for his birthday, somebody from school, and nobody would. And one of the comments that he made was that one of the other kids had said that their parents had told him not to play with my oldest son because he was the brother of my youngest son and he’d obviously decided that our family was dodgy in some way.

Charli: Oh no, that's heartbreaking

Catherine: It is really heartbreaking. Yeah. And we didn't get – thank goodness, I did not have to spend all of my Saturdays at crap kids parties in soft play areas, on one level. So I suppose we were spared that. But on the other hand, they never got invitations and it just didn't happen.

Charli: Yeah, I've had a similar incident. Not with parties but just playing with a group of people and my youngest son had been out playing with a group of people for a while and everything had been absolutely fabulous. He was really happy to make all these new friends. And then his brother came up one day to play and obviously didn't play the same way as the other kids, and was told in no uncertain terms by one of the parents that he wasn't welcome to play with them and in the end neither of them ended up welcome to play with these kids and it just again felt like it was parents were to blame. I don't think it’s the fact that there's anything wrong with his behaviour. He just was different. My eldest son is different and didn't go along with what everybody else did and when – perhaps, I don’t know, I wasn’t there, I don't know if parents were asking them not to do something, and if he wanted to do it, he’d do it because he's very strong willed. 

Catherine: Yeah, and doesn't find complying very easy

Charli: No, not at all. And that's not because we haven’t tried. But that's just who he is. And he's amazing for it, and hard work. 

Catherine: Yes. Yeah. Quite often people will have this view that they “simply wouldn't accept” the behaviour that they think shouldn’t be occurring. They “would be firmer”. Which always used to make me kind of roll my eyes. I think the first thing that you get out of your novice parenting toolkit is “I will be firm about this”, like the first spanner you try

Charli: I've had many conversations on a football line, on a football pitch, with other parents “Oh, well, if that was my child, I would, do this, that and the other” and I’m stood there thinking, “good luck with that with mine” because the firmer you get, the reaction is like a bomb going off. It doesn't work.

Catherine: It doesn't. So you need to find different ways around it. But it takes a while, doesn't it, to kind of find somewhere that's a safe space in yourself to be calm enough to be able to bat off everybody else's opinions about what you ‘ought’ to be doing. And when things like the walk of shame and the moment, where the teacher comes out and says, “can we just have a word?” and you think “ohh no, no, no you can’t have a word, I need to run and hide now!” So there’s something about needing to deal with that internal stuff

Charli: yeah, definitely.

Catherine: Because having kids who behave is an identity badge, isn’t it? Children who are successful

Charli: Yeah, everybody wants their children to be successful and doing well and getting good reports and it's lovely when you get that. But it's not all children can conform to the system that they're in, and I think that makes it then really hard for some children. They can excel in some areas but that hasn’t been found and it's not found in the education system. I found with my eldest who had got the most inquisitive love for learning as a little child, had that taken away from him by being forced to follow this strict curriculum regime whereas if he was just left to go and learn the things he wanted to learn and absorb what he wanted to learn. I think he would still have that amazing love for learning. He still has got it somewhere, but it's kind of been beaten out of him, not physically beaten but –

Catherine: He's needed to suppress it and I suspect it. So he's put in the box.

Charli: Yeah, he's anti learning because it relates to the place that probably damaged him the most

Catherine: I haven't realised one of the places that my youngest went to. I did know it had been traumatising for him but the extent of that I realised when we went to the park and we got this park. And he went grey. And then he named the school he’d been at. He said “Oh, we came here with such-a-place.”

Charli: Oh, gosh

Catherine: And I thought, “oh goodness, that really –” I’d known he needed to come out of there. It wasn't suiting him and it was working. But the degree to which. His lack of compliance in that space was because of the trauma he was experiencing there. That was a special education setting that was labelled as best in it’s field. But they had a system, a particularly firm system that they weren't willing to budge. It was different from the mainstream system, but it was still a system and he was in a box, and they would do all they could to persuade you to get into the box that didn’t fit. And because my son couldn't get in the box he had a really bad time.

Charli: It rings so true of so many places. It was definitely my son's experience, he could not comply with the strict discipline that the school he was at wanted him to follow and it was damaging him. And they weren’t prepared to budge for one because they couldn't be seen to be treating one different from everybody else, which is quite sad because we're not all the same.

Catherine: Yeah, there's a lot of talk, intermittently, about getting children to school and holding parents responsible for not getting children to school, and when you're not managing to get your kids to school, the fact that that is every weekday of every term time, that continual thing of how much we push this today to get this person in and the system is saying if you don’t get your kids to school, then the educational welfare reports are made and you could be fined for it. And then really helpfully to my children who were struggling to get school for various very, very valid reasons, people would be saying to them, well your mother could go to prison if you don't go to school

Charli: Yeah, it's massive. It's a massive scheme that we get brainwashed into that we have got to get our kids to school no matter what. And I think I'm quite lucky with my son when he started refusing 'cause I had a conversation with you and I was looking at other groups on Facebook of parents that were struggling with the same thing and chatting to other friends who their children struggled with getting into school. And what I had never realised was that when my son first stopped wanting to go to school and refusing to get out of bed, I was there cause I was working in the education system well, “I will take you there in your pyjamas, you will be going to school because that's what we do.” Because that's what we have all been taught. That’s what was ingrained in everyone. If you don't go to school, we’re going to get fined and we could end up in prison. I remember saying that to my son, my husband said it to him, you know, “we will go to prison, we will get fined.” But then having those conversations with people who've been through it and seeing the fact that actually there's a reason this lad doesn’t want to go to school, my son is struggling and maybe allowing him to not have to go and build up that trust I think is really key for us. Part of the reason I decided in the end to pull him out of school, obviously, we’d got the really difficult stuff happening. But if he was going to carry on refusing, then we were going to be fined; there was nothing we could do about it, and we didn't want to end up in that position and we didn't want to blame him for that position either

Catherine: When you started, talking about all the other things that you were doing. So this is the picture, that you've got all of the stuff we’ve been talking about going on. And then also what I was hearing in your story about all of the church-y stuff. You know all of the missional, “we’re doing this project, and we’re doing this and we’re doing that” is that not only are you trying to keep up the face of “I’m a good parent with children who go to school”. But also the “I'm a good Christian who’s doing good works for God”.

Charli: Yeah, yeah, very much so. When it was all about doing and doing, and how can I not be having my child go to school, 'cause he didn't go to school, how can I do all the things that I need to be doing? And so I got this image of who I was, and it was all about my identity as what I was doing. But if I couldn't do that anymore and everything that was falling apart in my life was making it look like I couldn't do that anymore, something needed to change and I did actually have some counselling at the time because I was really struggling with everything and I was told to just stop and take a look and just see what was going on and try and find my inner child in all of this. Which I thought was a bit odd at the time, I was like, “inner child, that's long gone, inner child”. But actually that sort of journey I've been on and finding out who I am as a human being and that my inner child was part of that journey, so finding out who my other child was, or is, then I've been able to stop worrying about what other people think. Because I am who I am and it doesn't matter if people think I’m a bad parent or if I’m not this good Christian doing all the good Christian works. I actually got to the point that if I'm happy with who I am and I'm doing the best for my family and we are being and we are together in that. Yeah we had struggles, we have some really hard days, but, it doesn't matter what anybody else thinks. And that's been really key in my journey these last 12 months. I've been accepting of who I am. For who I am and not what I do

Catherine: Yes. So how did your view of God need to shift in order for you to be able to make that shift in how you see yourself?

Charli: I think 'cause I was raised Catholic, there was always this sort of idea of this God who was so unhappy with you, and you've got to do all these things to earn salvation almost. And so I think that's where I was heading with trying to do everything, and it was just at some point, I think, through stopping a lot of things and just...being… and realising that no matter what I did, God loved me anyway. So if I never did another thing again, I don't know how I came to that realisation, but I did. I think maybe in the counselling session, my counsellor had said something. It’s breaking the old sort of idea of who God is and what God expected of me, so I didn't have to be doing all this stuff and I could just be, that changed.

Catherine: You've not been in Catholic churches for quite a long time though, have you?

Charli: No
Catherine: So you’ve been part of different churches, but not with that particular tradition and have been part of churches that I've been part of some of them too.

Charli: Yeah.

Catherine: That on the surface would be saying God loves you unconditionally.

Charli: Yeah.

Catherine: But there has still been something within that culture, within your interpretation of that culture, which has kept you doing stuff.

Charli: Yeah, because it's not in Catholic churches where I've been doing lots of stuff. And I don't think they’ve necessarily enforced that on me, to be doing. But I think it's, again, an identity. I thought I wasn’t a good Christian unless I was doing x, y and z and I was involved in x, y and z. Some of the things I've done, I look back and I think, “why on Earth did I ever put myself forward to do that?” When my two boys were small I decided that I was going to have a go at leading the kids' work. I only did it for about three or four weeks and thought “I am not cut out for this at all!”. But it’s that “I need to be doing,” you know, “I can't just sit here and do nothing.” I'm thinking of Mary and Martha. Instead of just sitting and being and being accepted, I felt I had to be accepted by the people there as well. Maybe, I don't know. I think maybe it was an insecurity in me

Catherine: So wanting to be the good Christian within the social context of church and the Christians around.

Charli: Which I wouldn't necessarily do so much at home, with groups I was at that weren’t Christian, so I don’t know why I felt I needed to within the church?

Catherine: I wonder sometimes, there's a subtle culture that I notice much more now than I would have done 20 years ago, I’d hardly have noticed it at all. But there's this thing where quite often you can be in situations where you’re listening to sermons and things with people who talk quite passionately. But underneath it is often the sense of this talk, or this sermon, or this preach, is going to encourage you to ‘do better’ at things. So “this is how you can pray more. This is how you can read your Bible more. This is how you can love more.” And often the underpinning thing is the sense of “you need to do more of that” rather than the sense of, “God loves you as you are and thinks you're great.” And from that all sorts of stuff might flow. It starts from the being encouraged to do more and to come away from Sunday fired up to really go for it in your Christian life in the week to come.

Charli: Yeah, and find your calling. I used to look at all these people from when I first started in the church and got all these amazing different gifts and ministries. Really having this desire to want to replicate it in some way, not necessarily do the same thing, but find what my calling in that sense was. And I think going to conferences is massive for doing exactly that. You come away from a conference all fired up that you want to go and change the world and there was very much an element of that and part of the project that we could see that it was an amazing project and I really wanted to be part of it. Because it was doing. And this is the ministry, maybe this is the ministry God is wanting me to do, but actually God just wanted to be me. And it's been such a freedom in that, I've been able to just be Charli and not have to strive to have this amazing ministry that is going to change the world. But actually just be me and be there for my family. You know, I remember, especially when I was much, much younger, I wanted to change the world. But actually, the world didn't need changing. I just needed to simmer down a little. It's not for me to change the world, is it? Somebody else can do that. I’m going to leave somebody else to do it. I'm just going to be me

Catherine: And that will change the world, but it will do it in a less stress-y kinda way. Something about just being yourself enables what flows from you to be good rather than kind of full of stress and screwing you up inside. I’ve certainly noticed that you've lost a lot of the angst. Quite often when we've made a big change, so you’re much more at peace now than you were, and feeling, as you say, a lot freer. Can you remember what it felt like in that transition?

Charli: It was difficult. It was a really difficult time because it was almost like I’d had the rug pulled out from underneath me, having my job go. And it wasn't that it ‘went’, I gave it up and giving up the directorship of the charity and giving up going to church, even. I gave it all up. But it still felt like I’d had the rug pulled out from underneath me.

Catherine: But it's not like you were in a situation where there's a lot of choice. It was a survival move.

Charli: Yeah, I spent a lot of time in tears. At the time I think my son thought it was because of him. But I think it was an element of mourning everything. I didn't know who I was at that point. Everything that I thought I was had gone. So yeah it wasn't a nice transition period at first at all. I mean obviously there's still all the stuff going on but home so there was an element of the tears were because of that as  well. But I do think it was both. It wasn't pleasant. And there’s still times now the situation is not pleasant, but I don't think I’m mourning anything I've had to let go of. I look back and think “how on earth was I managing to juggle so many balls?” I'm really glad I did let go of them all.

Catherine: Yeah, and it's definitely a grieving 'cause parenting. When you get to the point that you need to let things go in order to continue to do that and care for your kids, it is a loss of quite a lot of stuff. Things that you find satisfying, things that are part of your identity in terms of the wider world. And losing that is not small things. I think that mourning that and grieving it.

Charli: Yeah, it definitely was, it was a definite grieving process. It's not that it's gone, I still have managed to maintain a little bit, so I kind of do a little bit. I do a bit of freelance work now, just so I can earn a little bit of money so we’re not destitute, with me giving up work, but I can pick and choose now. I can still do my sign language, which I love, but I'm not necessarily having to go and do dentist appointments which I didn’t particularly like, or wherever I was sent to with my old job. It's now a case of I can pick up what I want to do and still have that enjoyment factor. But it's not that I’ve got to do it five days a week Monday to Friday.

Catherine: Yeah, but there is the having to let go of the paid position and there's something about letting go of the paid position that you could announce if you went on a quiz show. “I’m Charli, and I am a…”. Some of that stuff potentially disappears.

Charli: I almost feel like I've stepped out of the rat race.

Catherine: Yes. It's the difference between having a nine to five job, which is a fairly firm box around which you're trying to fit the family stuff and the chaos of school and school refusal. And the box is pretty inflexible. And so it’s you that ends up bending really quite a lot and getting bent out of shape in the process because you’re the only thing that can possibly give because the kids isn’t going to give, school isn’t going to give, job isn’t going to give, so you end up bending around it. I think it's a really common experience. Whereas once you let go of that, having the flexibility to be with your son in the way that he needs that then the other things slot like around that

Charli: It is quite inflexible. As you say, to let go of it all and just hold on to the one thing which is family. It's been really freeing and because there's now flexibility, I'm not getting pulled out of shape. Not suffering that damage from trying to stay inside that inflexible system

Catherine: Yes. Yeah. So letting the leaves fall has been really, really important.

Charli: And I think there has been times in the past where I haven't let the leaves fall, but I should have done because I was trying to hold on to all these things. So prior to letting go, there was a lot of holding an element of me dying in that because I was burning out myself and I was unable to do all these things even though I was trying desperately to and holding on to them and thinking “yeah, I can do this” and taking on more than I could chew, and it was that holding on to the leaves. But what that was doing to me was quite damaging. It was the case in the end, “this has gotta go, this has all gotta go.” So it was that rug being pulled out from underneath me, leaves dropping.

Catherine: At least you’re not trying to hold the leaves in a season of frost.

Charli: No. I've just got family, which is the call, which is part of who I was when I introduced myself.

Catherine: Yeah. And some of the leaves that have dropped is really quite nice to get rid of the shame of what other people are thinking and that sense of “I'm not coming up to the mark in terms of what society regards as a good and successful parent. And I'm not coming up to the mark in terms of what the Christian culture I’ve been part of regards as a good Christian, getting to church every week.” I think that's one of the sets of leaves which if you're somebody of faith, getting to a point where you can't sustain even attendance at a community of faith or a place of worship consistently or even at all. That feels like a heavy loss to people sometimes

Charli: Prior to doing it, I would have said there's no chance because that was again part of my identity. But actually looking back on the journey it’s probably one of the things I've done for me personally and I don't feel it as a massive loss. What I have found is I've met some amazing people that I can go and see for coffee or just spend a bit of time with and have a much deeper relationship. Much more understanding and opportunity to talk about life and not it be a week in week out thing, “How are you?” “yeah, fine” and almost putting a mask on every week and  being “yeah I’m fine” and pretending everything's OK when really things aren't so getting rid of that has helped me in my journey and I'm really thankful for it. It's not that I lost my faith. I don't go to church, I don’t feel I need to go to church at the minute, it's not for everybody. Some people absolutely thrive in church, but for me, spending time with friends like yourself and having more meaningful conversations about life and what we're going through has been more church like for me, more the Christian community that I need than just turning up week in, week out and putting this face on that everything’s ok

Catherine: That's really been God's grace in the middle of all of this, hasn’t it, that at a point when sustaining attendance somewhere has not been possible, God has just brought people in groups into your life that fit.

Charli: Yeah. It's enabled me to be a lot more real with people. It’s only now actually, looking back, how much I was hiding behind this facade of who I thought people wanted me to be and I was trying to be that good Christian, be that good mother, be that good coworker. And now I don't have to be that. I can actually be a friend. And it works both ways, it’s a two way thing now where we can share and be real and be honest and be open. And when you’re hurting with those people you can go and just sob and you don't have to say anything or try and make everything OK. You can just sob together if needs be or go and have a glass of wine. It's just quite freeing. It's been really freeing

Catherine: Yeah, we started with that concept of being a human being, not a human doing. And also to have the space in your family relationships, particularly with your son who's no longer in school, when you’re not trying to be something that you just haven’t got the capacity to be. When you're embracing your natural winter season at this point. That allows you space to enable him slowly to re-discover who he is when he's not being required to sort of be somebody who he's not in a school situation. That takes time, doesn’t it, it's not a quick journey.

Charli: No, it’s not a quick fix at all. It’s taken me 50 years to be honest. So hopefully he'll – maybe through seeing the changes in me – he’ll pick up on it sooner. But yeah, it's not going to be something that happens overnight. Particularly at the age that both my sons are coming into, where hormones are kicking in. And I think it's this age where we do pick up a lot of issues with our own image. And what do people think of us? You know, teenage years are hard. I wouldn’t want to go back to them at all.

Catherine: When we started this conversation I'd got in mind a number of different groups of people who might find it helpful, and some of those are people who are walking the same journey of having kids with extra needs who don’t fit in the boxes and what that does to you as a parent and how that mangles your own self image and leaves you with stuff to sort out, and also friends who for whatever reason have found that they no longer fitting in a Christian box in the way that they used to. And actually God is really faithful and continues to walk with us even if we're not doing all of the things that we've been taught we need to do, we ought to do. And so if there are Christian spiritual practices that used to fit that don’t, that aren't working, or contexts where you used to fit in and now you don't, then trusting that leaves disappear for a reason sometimes.

Charli: I’m not trying to hold onto them. It is the time to let go. Just wait for spring where the new growth will come

Catherine: That will come from the essentialness of who you are. There is something about autumn and winter that you can really lean into to enter the silence of winter, along with all of the log fires and the mulled wine and –

Charli: Some cosiness. Even though it's cold outside it’s a time to get your best woolly jumpers out and your nice warm scarves and have nice hot spicy soups, you know there is a real element of warmth and comfort in those dark months that are quite nostalgic. I think it's a real time of remembering all the things that have happened in the past, the nostalgia of smells, of tastes and memories of childhood. There's so many of them in this season and they're all positive ones rather than negative.

Catherine: Yeah, and the image that I'm getting is in that wintering season as we do a spiritual turning inwards and allowing God’s love to embrace us, it's different from the seasons where you’re out there and doing things and growing and all sorts of new things are occurring. There was a turning in and in that turning in into ourselves and how we meet God and we meet God’s embrace. That sense that God envelops us just as your woolly jumper might envelope you in the winter.

Charli: Yeah, and that nice snuggly scarf wraps around you 

Catherine: Yeah and new things will be birthed in that time. There are seeds of light, in the middle of that, but there's somethings, somethings that very healthily, we don't need to pick up again

Charli: Definitely don’t want to pick up again

Catherine: And they’re generally about other people's expectations or our own expectations of ourselves; we can replace that with a new understanding of who we are and how precious we are, so we can end up doing things because they come from who you are and not because of what other people are

Charli: Or guilt.

Catherine: Yeah. So thank you very much. That's been really good.

Charli: You’re welcome, it’s been lovely

Catherine: It’s been lovely to have you here. Thank you Charli.

Charli: Thank you



Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email You can find a transcript of this podcast at and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.

Thank you for listening.


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