How the light gets in

There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in.

I love this line from Leonard Cohen. It speaks beautifully about our human condition.

We are but clay. And through the cracks the light gets in.

And sometimes there are many cracks, a breaking. And what will you do then, with all that light?


I've been feeling cracked for months, my clay being, once luminously glazed and strong, felt dull and weak, broken.

Light was getting in through the cracks, illuminating, at least somewhat, a path to healing. But not enough. Not enough light. Not enough healing.

Last week, the structure broke completely. The pain of that brokenness, shared between Damien and I, was almost more than we could bear. But the illumination that followed, the understanding and love that broke into my shame, insecurity, and pain is nothing short of a miracle to me.

The demolition of personal and familial artifact, the structures we have built up around our values and beliefs, is not something I want to do often. Tearing down structures, that at one time we truly felt supported those beliefs, but over time have proven to be barriers in our marriage and significant stumbling blocks for me, was very painful but is the start of deep healing.

In between two birthdays (I turned 39 last week), and during the first week of Advent, traditions I held on to during the maelstrom, we deconstructed our family life.

We didn't set out to do that, to tear down what we thought, what I thought, were sacrosanct principles in our lives.

But once the walls started coming down it became so glaringly obvious to us that my post-hike recovery depended on this breaking, and rebuilding. That the health and happiness of our marriage depended on this breaking. That the way forward in raising our children depended on this breaking.

Since coming home from our hike I have been on a very painful quest to answer why, oh why, have I struggled so much in the past year? Why have I felt a growing sense of deep insecurity and shame? What happened to my confidence, my spunk, my joy, my fire? I have not historically struggled with depression or anxiety, why now? Is it age? genetics?

I am a strong woman but I have been slowing cracking and crumbling for many, many months. And last week the whole structure came down. Never mind cracks to let the light in. There was nothing but open space, no structure (terrifying for me) and a lot of pain. It felt like our life lay in a heap of broken shards at our feet.

(If you're thinking "wow, that's dramatic", I assure you that's exactly how I felt.)

Standing in the shards, the artifacts of our marriage - ways we've been doing things and how we've set up our life - the only way forward was to dig under all that rubble for the nuggets of truth.

The truth about who I am, who my husband is, who the kids are, how we function and how we thrive.

When the dust settled, like the aftermath of a devastating earthquake, we both saw with such clarity why I have walked around with so much insecurity, shame and struggle, and why it was getting worse. Why I had lost my vision and enthusiasm for the future. Why most of the fun had left our marriage, and why my husband has wondered for months, “what happened to the spunky, fiery, and enthusiastic woman I married?"

Holding this naked truth in our hands, we realized that the path we've chosen for the past few years hasn’t been completely true to who we are, to who I am especially.

We, and it was completely we, set a course, and followed that course based on an ideal that was true to our values, but not true to how we actually function best in our unique personalities.

There are many ways to express our values, our core beliefs, and live them out. We chose a path that wasn't the best fit.

I am a complex individual, as is everyone, but there are a few key pieces about the essence of me that were glaringly obvious when exposed to the light.

I am a security seeking, honoring, and upholding person. I thrive in an environment of order, rules, and structure. I want nothing more than to "do the right thing". I am also extremely loyal, dependable, committed, and value family above all else. I already knew all this about myself.

What I didn't realize, what we didn't realize, is that these hardwired traits, in the right mix (wrong mix?) of circumstances, can take me down a dangerous path.

If I feel something is "the right thing to do", I can be loyal to a "family-building" cause or idea that actually works against the very nature of my being, making decisions that undermine my basic needs. And my stubborn, strong-willed nature will strive to work only harder, to be more loyal, even as I start to crack.

In this perfect storm, this mismatch of decisions and personality (a mismatch made worse by my loyalty to stay the course!) I will crack, and I will assign blame to myself. The plan must be right, I must be inherently wrong.

I have felt fundamentally flawed for the last couple years.

As my security, confidence, and well-being (that I feel well about my being, the essence of who I am) slowly eroded, I experienced shame, anxiety, and depression.

I am the kind of person that will go down with the ship.

And so it was time to grab hold of my husband's hand, side by side, not cowering behind him in fear, and jump ship.

Damien and I are very different people. We share values around core principles and beliefs, but our motivations and our way of functioning and expressing those values is nearly opposite of each other.

And when one of us, in this case me, attempts to operate, or mold myself into Damien's way of moving through the world, I will start to feel inadequate, doubtful, fearful, and eventually shame, deep insecurity, depression, and brokenness. (And the only reason I would try to mold myself to Damien's expression is because of my deep familial loyalty and dedication, two hardwired traits).

Likewise, if I impose my functioning on Damien he will also wither. Either way, if one of us is going down we drag the other with us. We’re one. We are very different people who have chosen to commit ourselves, our lives, our bodies, our fidelity to each other. And when I go down, so does he.

So we've decided no one's going down in this home, in this marriage, in this family.

We’ve picked up everything that is near and dear, or what we thought as near and dear to our hearts, and have held it, exposed, in the light. Light, that only in our brokenness, could finally reach the dark places.

Things are changing in our home, in our family life. (No, we're not done homeschooling. But if that wasn't working for me, I'd have to let go of my loyalty to that idea also.)

Some of the changes will show up on the blog sooner than later. Others I will write about on a need-to-write basis. But this isn’t about details, as much as I love those. This is about finally seeing hope, and a bright vision for my future, after months and months of increasing battles with self-worth, anxiety, brokenness and depression.

My Christmas miracle came early this year. Light shining through the brokenness, bringing truth and freedom. The path to healing.

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  • Lisa Zahn

    Lisa Zahn on Dec. 11, 2014, 1:07 p.m.

    I can relate to this a bit. And you write about it so beautifully, so poetically. Thank you for sharing. 


    As I read it made me think of the Enneagram, a personality (?) tool I have only recently learned a bit about. It's really an ancient thing, and looks at the shadow side of our personalities. Sometimes that is hard to do! But I was thinking your Enneagram type might give you even more insight into this thing that you're talking about. You might not need more tools right now, but if you're interested you might want to check it out.

    Blessings to you, dear Renee, and to your family as you bring about this transforming change.





  • heather

    heather on Dec. 11, 2014, 1:25 p.m.

    oh, renee. i have to tell you, i've seen this post coming for a while now and i'm so grateful to you for sharing yourself here, in this way. and of course, you've articlulated it all so well. adam asked me a couple of months ago if you were ok (he follows you on instagram), sensing despair in something you had written. the cracking open is the beginning of something new, a rebuilding, not merely the end of something else. i know you truly love the adventure, but that at your core, home, family, and security ground you and bring you deep peace. i look forward to supporting you (and damien) as your friend(s) in whatever way i can. a lasting marriage is kind of a miracle when you think about it... two people walking together down one path. rare is the couple that can go a lifetime never wanting to venture into territory that doesn't speak to the essence of who their partner is.  and yet, we must find a way to be sure each gets what they need, for that is the foundation of a loving, commited partnership. but sometimes we just have to come to the realization of what our needs actually are! and that is what i am getting from you here... an awakening. it's funny that you mentioned christmas in your final thoughts as i just read a quote this morning that i thought (while reading your post) i'd share with you. "the message of christmas is simple, it says that hope has come into the world." your christmas miracle, your christmas hope, has indeed come early this year and i'm so glad for you. so much love to you and your family, renee. xo



    • renee

      renee on Dec. 11, 2014, 2:06 p.m.

      Heather I have a sense that others on the outside could see some of this happening before we did. Which kills me in a way because I hate being so blind and can't stand feeling that other people would know more about me than I know about myself (smile).

      And when I published I knew that there would be a nodding of heads and in my desire to be right, and to know myself, and be true and honest, I am torn between, what seems to me, to be a fine line between shame and humility in the honesty. I'm going to walk the humility path (i'm so done with shame) and be thankful for the things I've learned and the hope I have, we have, going forward. 

      xo, Renee


      • heather

        heather on Dec. 11, 2014, 2:20 p.m.

        it is such a strange phenomenon that others can sometimes see more clearly than we can. maybe brene brown could study that for us! :) i can't tell you how many times i've said out loud that "i wish someone whose perspective i trust could fill me in on exactly what is wrong with me right now... or what i should be doing... etc., etc." also, definitely go with humility over shame. xo


      • jacinda

        jacinda on Dec. 14, 2014, 11:32 a.m.

        Hallelujah! Be done with shame. There is only humility and that's where the real beauty stands. I honour your truth and your willingness to share where the light is shining in you. Deep gratitude.


  • Anna

    Anna on Dec. 11, 2014, 1:53 p.m.

    Dude......that's honest!

     so glad you got there, but sorry the trip was so hard.

    Glad to see a glimmer of you turning around

    Big hugs 



  • Melanie

    Melanie on Dec. 11, 2014, 2:01 p.m.

    Your truth allows the cracking of others to fill with light. Thank you. Many are on this path with you, yet quiet and finding our own way.


  • Michelle

    Michelle on Dec. 11, 2014, 2:08 p.m.

    I am so very happy for you. The hard stuff is there for a reason I guess, although none of us like to go through it. And now... and now you move forward to be all that you can be with your husband by your side. That alone is a joy not everyone will experience. This is a great time for you and for your family. :)


  • Sandi

    Sandi on Dec. 11, 2014, 3:10 p.m.

    I don't have time to respond like I would like but thank you for sharing! You have described me over the last little while. I think you are ahead of me in this process. My husband and I are opposites as well. And we have struggled to be who we each are while moving forward on our path together. I kind of gave up on being me along the way to accommodate everyone else. Not sure I am able to explain it fully here but I done with shame too! I still feel like finding my way back is a ways off and I am not even sure what that means yet. I feel the cracks getting bigger and the weight of it crumbling down. My wide open space is coming. Love the honesty  and vulnerability of this. Being a strong women myself I find few people that understand my complexities :) So wish we could do tea and chat. 


  • Grace

    Grace on Dec. 11, 2014, 7:18 p.m.

    Wow Renee!  This is wonderful!  Wonderful expression of your experience, and a wonderful poke to my own awakening.  I feel like we have something in common, as my husband and I are also quite opposite.

    I love structure, order, security - even to the point of some monotony in my life.  I like a small and familiar- very close group of friendships, "kindred spirits" I call them.  I like adventure in "small dozes", always with the thought of a structured and familiar home base to come back to and curl up in afterwards.  I did not choose homeschooling.  My husband did.  I love it now, though at times I'm torn between feelings of inadequecy in educating my children and feelings of pride over how well they are doing despite my lack. (I'm profoundly deaf, by the way, which doesn't help at all with anything related to adventure- meeting new people, etc.)

    My husband wants adventure.  He wants travel to a foreign country (or perhaps move there).  He wants to live in a sailboat.  He wants to start his own business.  He loves meeting new people.  He's rather disorganized (from my point of view), and falls prone to distractions frequently.  (But he's a wonderful man - just different from me!)

    I waver back and forth between feelings of, "Yes!  Let's go for this!"  And then to retreat with feelings of, "Oh!  What am I thinking??!!"

    I, too, am very loyal to my husband and family, supporting them in all I feel is right for them, often to the detriment of my own self.  I, too, experience shame over my lack, and my set-backs / emotional breakdowns.

    My husband and I had a recent experience that brought our differences to light.  We had in-laws visiting for a few days, then we all went off to a 4 day church convention.  Then back home for a couple days and back out again to another church convention.  We were scheduled to head home Sunday night after the last church convention.  But, last minute, my husband decided to stay until Monday to help with clean-up, and then to a BBQ at the home of some new acquaintences.  I tentatively agreed to do so, though inside I was exhausted, and craving the comfort and privacy of home.

    Monday morning I awoke in tears.  I was simply unable to leave our bus (glorified metal tent) to socialize and help with cleanup.  It took me 4 hours to bring myself together emotionally in order to come out of my "cave."  We finally got done with cleanup around 2:00pm.  Then my husband wanted to go to the BBQ (which was scheduled for 12 noon.)  Again, I was hoping to head home.  I told him I thought it was too late to go to the BBQ.  He said we could just go visit.  Now I was anxious.  I thought that if we go visit, we'd likely end up staying for hours, and not get home until very late.  I was craving home...

    I decided to stand up for myself.  I explained myself as best as I could to my husband.  I made it clear that I NEEDED to go home.  He didn't understand, and felt resentful of my need.  But, he took me home, anyways.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings.  I helps me to understand more clearly that I do have needs that I do not need to be ashamed about, and that I need to pay attention to.  And maybe your blog here could be the tool I need to help open a discussion between myself and my husband concerning our differences and to help us to figure out agreeable compromises.

    You are more of a help with your blogs than you realize!





  • Lee

    Lee on Dec. 11, 2014, 7:59 p.m.

    It seems that I am moved to write "thank you" so often on your posts, Renee.  I wonder if it is what we have in common that resonates, or if you are writing to the bones of what it means to be human.  I can't distinguish the two, and it doesn't matter in the end.  Only that your words continue to reach so many of us, far out on our own metaphorical peninsulas.


    I am hopeful that you find insight into why we can not see ourselves  the way others do.  I could see this coming through your posts, but it takes me forever to have insights about my self.  And when I do, it's often because I am fortunate enough to stumble across someone else's wise words (!) and feel something clicking into place.  Your post follows on the heals of a discovery I just made, about a book by Elaine Aron, author of Highly Sensitive People, called The Undervalued Self.  I am just starting in to it, hoping to find some answers about why I too put other needs before my own, then evenutally crack under the strain.

    ​You are brave to share your inner most thoughts with us, and also kind.   


  • Nissa

    Nissa on Dec. 11, 2014, 9:18 p.m.

    I get it, woman. I can thoroughly distract myself by doing my absolute best job at (and a damn fine job at that) and taking pride in the things that are within my reach, but ultimately those are not building blocks of an authentic LIFE. Go out and get it--whatever it is. You guys can make it happen.


  • Aurora

    Aurora on Dec. 11, 2014, 9:26 p.m.

    Thankyou for sharing. I also don't have the time to respond as I'd like, but I get it. Thank you for trusting us.


  • Rivergirl

    Rivergirl on Dec. 12, 2014, 8:15 a.m.

    You started with such a beautiful quote, about human frailty and what comes of it.  Then you began to bare your soul  . I just want to say thanks because the way you think is inspiring even though it must be painful for you. I love the  beautiful  photos that accompany your thoughts.


  • kyndale

    kyndale on Dec. 13, 2014, 1:18 a.m.

    I don't even know what to say.  But, I'm glad you can find some hope and light in your experience.  We all have to.  Thanks for being so honest and vulnerable here! xoxo


  • Beth

    Beth on Dec. 13, 2014, 1:08 p.m.

    I have been thinking about you ever since I read this.  I was in a similar situation in the fall of 2000 when I dropped out of a doctoral program after six weeks.  After spending almost a decade reaching for a certain goal, status, and lifestyle I finally realized it wasn't true to who I was.  I'd let the values of others shape my path, partly because I was so young I didn't know any better.  Once I got "there" it was a wakeup call as to how unhappy my life would be if I kept putting so  much energy into trying to be something I wasn't.   So I dropped out.  Many of my friends and mentors were not a fan of this decision telling me I was just running away because I "couldn't take it".  At the time I knew they were wrong but it wasn't until almost ten years later I had the insight into what had really happened.  Thankfully I was in my twenties and single at the time and while my parents weren't thrilled, having just moved me from the Midwest to the East Coast and I announce my intention to move back, they were supportive and offered the help I needed.  Most of it financial because moving three times in four months gets expensive.  Especially when one is unemployed!  It was a very difficult period in my life, because I didn't fully understand what was happening and was fearful about how my future would turn out, but now I see I had to go through that dark tunnel in order to have the life I do now.  One that is much more true to who I am.

    I wish you all the best in this journey.  Especially since you are lucky enough to have the love and support of your family much as I did.  Looking forward to reading about how you come out on the other side.


  • Naomi

    Naomi on Dec. 13, 2014, 9:39 p.m.

    Hi Renee!

    I am sorry I haven't touched base with you in some time. No excused though! I have been reading most of your posts, and wishing there was some comfort I could give you. I won't compare our stories because they are quite different, but I did go through a few months of a depression period myself earlier this year. I was frustrated with my life, with my seeming inability to do anything about that which frustrated me, and sadness that there were so many struggles in our lives every day that we deal with, not knowing how to fix them or avoid them. I felt like things were falling down around me, or as I described in a recent blog post, it felt like my best laid plans were being shoved through the paper shredder and I was running around trying to grab the pieces as they flew through the air, frantically trying to glue them back together before the cycle started again. It was hard. And the struggles are far from over. But at some point I realized that being depressed about it wasn't going to help, and that there were a few things I could do to help myself feel better about my life, so I spent a lot of time talking with and crying to Glen about it and he found small ways that he could support me through that time. Although, I will say, he did have a hard time relating to it. Then an interesting thing happened. We sort of switched places. I have decided to not to let life run me over anymore, and HE is the one feeling frustrated with life. I find myself wanting to remind him of what I have learned, but I know he needs to learn it for himself, and that I can't force him through that growth, I can only stand by him and support him as he finds his way. Life is tough. There are good time and there are times that suck, but you got right to the heart of it when speaking of holding on to the centrally important thing - family. Everything else can fall away, and if we have family at the center we can always build back up, even if our lives look completely different after that process. I am so very happy for you that you are feeling the light at the end of that tunnel, and feeling comfortable letting go and choosing what is right for you. I look forward to reading more of your posts and seeing how it all plays out, and most of all I pray blessings on you and your family and that you will feel overwhelming joy and satisfaction in life in the coming months. Love you!


  • Jess

    Jess on Dec. 14, 2014, 10:01 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing.  In my commitment to my family/family ideals (and laundry and general upkeep), I get lost in the shuffle and forget my own needs and to honor how I operate (which, likewise, paves a path of sadness and unfulfillment).   Lots of food for thought.  I always appreciate your candor. Sending hugs!


  • amber

    amber on Dec. 16, 2014, 5:49 a.m.

    I don't have many words to say, but I am so glad to read this post and can relate to you so well. Thank you for sharing.


  • Aimee

    Aimee on Dec. 16, 2014, 11:22 p.m.

    This was so beautiful and I so understand.

    I think sometimes we recognized that we carry some "biblical" notions of following our husbands that aren't healthy and what God really intends.  In our tender hearts of wanting to serve and honor Him and our families, we end up dying. It's incredibly hard to see and deceptive.  Thank Jesus for FREEDOM and healing and hope and that He is better than all of our constructs every dreamed.


    • renee

      renee on Dec. 17, 2014, 12:36 a.m.

      Aimee, I have a whole bunch to say about how my desire to be good christian wife hindered (?) me in this situation, if not hindering me, colored my perception for sure. So much to say about that... saving it for another post.


      • Aimee

        Aimee on Dec. 17, 2014, 5:13 a.m.

        Ugh. My typos. Typed too quickly. I can't wait to read your thoughts on it. I have been in a place the past two years of seeing how quiet and fearful and repressed I have been in my spirit due to "following" and have neglected gifts and my voice and my desires in many ways. My husband is a wonderful loving man...I bought into these messages from books and blogs and became someone he didn't want me to be...he too missed my funny, snarky, confident self. It's crazy how there are "voices" that take our tender hearts towards obedience and loyalty and twist them into unhealthy versions of those good qualities. Love your journey and all you are coming into. It's truly beautiful. 


  • Jess

    Jess on Jan. 17, 2015, 1:42 p.m.

    Your words feel like a familiar walk in the fields.  Shadows of familiar experiences and feelings, relationships and dynamics.  Your approach, personality, way of being though allow so much freedom for others... A permission to be and work and rest through the times of questions and crumbling.  Thank you Renee.  Thank you for your honesty.  For the way your familiar words and thoughts reach so many, reach me.  Your blog has, over the years, given me so much life, empathy, understanding, teaching.  I cannot thank you enough and continue to find such joy in walking through the fields with you in the coming year.  


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