When criticism collides with fear

As everyone who’s read the previous post knows, we didn’t have the greatest start to the week over here. So I wrote about that in all it’s “ugly day-ness”, and I wrote about myself and my “not the finest display of coping with frustration that I’ve ever put forth”.

I received more than a few comments on that post – many of which warmed my heart and made me smile, and one that didn’t. It’s all caused me to think a lot about my reactions to compliments and criticism this last day and a half, and I’ve decided that something I am giving this much time on my mental airwaves deserves to be written about.

Let’s start with criticism, and sometime in the next couple of weeks I’ll wind my way around to talking about compliments.

So, one of the comments I received on that post was the following:

“I’m addicted to your blog. I guess I keep reading, waiting for when things will turn around (or for your perspective to change). I feel sorry for Mike. Not only does he have to contend with the low water pressure, lack of air conditioning, and all the inconveniences, but it’s compounded by a stressful job in which he can’t help everyone who needs it and by knowing that his wife is thoroughly unhappy because he wanted to move to Laos to fulfill what he feels is his purpose in life. It’s always harder to deal with negative situations when surrounded by negativity.

Reading your blog, I can’t help but wonder what it must be like to be poor and living in Laos–having no air conditioning ever, running water, or people to call to fix things.

I hope you find something beautiful and meaningful in being there. Try to stay positive, Lisa.”

I’ve had a wide range of reactions to this in the last 24 hours.

Initially I was just stunned, and bewildered. (Also a little admiring that this person had managed to imply that I was an unending fountain of negativity who is making Mike’s life harder than it needs to be, subtly remind me to think of the poor, and begin and end with a clear message that I could perhaps benefit from a perspective shift… all in 151 words. I can clearly learn something about brevity here, if nothing else.)

Then I wanted to be a bitch – to hit “reply” and deliver a pithy, self-righteous, set-down in return. I won’t list the one-liners that rushed to mind, but there were several.

Then I wanted to defend myself. I wanted to point out that in the last couple of weeks I’d written about bad days and tiring border runs, yes. But I’d also written about interesting visits to museums and incandescent days spent out at beautiful waterfalls and meaningful Sunday afternoons spent pondering how to help sick kids.

Then I started to wonder why this was bothering me quite so much. There were other comments on that post that were very positive indeed. In fact, most of the comments left on my blog are positive. This was the day after I had written, in a draft chapter for my next book, “I am less imprisoned than I once was by what people think of me.” The irony of my ruffled feathers over this – a single comment written by someone who does not know me well – was not lost on me. Neither was the fact that I was doing the very thing she insinuated I do far too often – focusing on the negative. So why did this bug me so?

Then I realized she had (probably unwittingly) trespassed on something that, deep down, I sometimes greatly fear – that I’m not supporting Mike in his important work here as well as I could/should be. I also sometimes fear that I am the weak link in the chain of our marriage. I sometimes fear that I am a petty and small-minded person who chronically runs short of joy and gratitude. I sometimes fear that I am really not all that lovable, and that one day Mike will figure that out.

Once I’d dragged this tangled mess of “sometimes fears” out into the light, I sat down and tried to really think about where she was right and wrong, and what helpful take-homes I could glean from her comments.

She is absolutely right about the fact that it is always harder to deal with negative situations when surrounded by negativity, that a positive attitude is one of the most powerful forces in life, and that trying to stay positive is rarely wasted energy.

She is very wrong in her guess that I am thoroughly unhappy here in Laos. I think/I hope that she is also wrong in her supposition that I am, on balance, making life overall more challenging for Mike. Yet she came to these conclusions from reading my posts – not just the one I wrote yesterday, it seems, but all of them. Should I change something about the way I write, or what I’m writing about?

So after pondering this today, here’s what I think… I’ll continue to monitor the balance of generally “positive” and generally “negative” material that finds its way up here, but I’m not going to let fear of what you all may think of me drive me to sanitize the blog of accounts of bad days, or my own potentially less-than-admirable moments.

Because, right now, this blog is meant to chronicle life in the moment. Sometimes those moments here are waterfalls or museums or funny encounters with the police, and sometimes they are hard days where lots of little things go wrong (and they are relatively little things – but sometimes in those moments they don’t feel quite so little). Sometimes in those moments I do desperately need a shift in perspective. And, often, it’s writing about those moments that helps me find one.

It is writing more than almost anything else that helps me transform an event, a thought, or a mood into something acknowledged, clarified, and manageable. Writing is cathartic. I usually don’t show Mike my posts before I put them up, but I did the other day. I read the bad day post out loud to him that night while he was washing the dishes. We laughed a little. Writing the post played a large part in nudging me back into territory where I could laugh. And the comments that you all leave on the posts make me smile. Well, usually… But even when they don’t make me smile they often (as in this case) push me to think, and that is very valuable too.

So thank you all for tracking with me on this journey.

P.S. Hey all, feel free to comment on anything I’ve written in this post, but please do not discuss the comment that I reproduced in this post. I did not write this to set her up for any third-party criticism (or praise).

P.P.S. When Mike read the first draft of this post he laughed when he got to the line about me fearing that one day he’d figure out I was unlovable. “One day,” he teased me, “one day dumb old Mike will figure this out.” Then he grinned. “You’re safe for a good while yet, though – I’m far too busy organizing medical care for orphans to figure it out anytime soon.”

P.P.P.S. I’m going with Mike up to the villages today and will be there for the rest of the week. No internet = no blog. So I’ll see you all next week.



37 responses to “When criticism collides with fear

  1. Dear Lisa, though I suspect what you are writing flows from what you are honestly feeling and thinking at the moment. There is another (higher) source to which I would like to point. As a Christian nurtured in the rich variety in Holy Scripture you may be aware–perhaps subconsciously–that the same Bible that gives us Psalm 23 and 1 Corinthians 13, also includes Lamentations and Ecclesiastes in its inspired canon. You are far from the first to lay out your trials for us to see and perhaps share. Doug

    • Oh Ecclesiastes… one of my favorite books as a teenager. I loved all that existential despair stuff that’s in there. Ah, must pack this up right now and get in the car to head to the villages. More on Ecclesiastes later maybe.

  2. Lisa,

    I’m sorry for upsetting you. It wasn’t my intention. I have been reading your blog since you were talking about your book tour (how long ago was that?)

    I admire how you write. You’re extremely candid and honest. If only everyone could be so honest about themselves–good and bad.
    I would hate if you began editing yourself so I’ll just stop commenting.

    Christians believe in heaven and hell as an afterlife. I personally believe that heaven and hell exist in our mind depending on how we see life. My only intention was to remind you that wonderful things are happening in your life. Sorry for saying it poorly.

    • Hey there, thank you for this comment, it’s lovely of you. Once I stopped being pissy and reactive I realized that based on what I know of you and how you approach your own life you most likely had not ever intended to upset me and that you’d just unwittingly stumbled across some of my own significant inner furniture and fears and personal insecurities. I really do value the thinking this pushed me to do, even if it didn’t feel comfortable during the process. Please don’t stop commenting unless you want to. I very much agree with you about how critical perspective is, I value your input, and I won’t edit myself (not because of this, anyway :)). Thanks again.

  3. Have I mentioned how much I enjoy the blogosphere? I do. Whether commenters agree with authors or not, it gives people on either side of a perspective a chance to interact more deeply with what they’re thinking or feeling or analyzing. To that end it is always great gain.

    • Amen to that. Looks from your blog like you three sisters (plus spouses and Sam) had a great vacation recently. Yay.

      • Yes we did! It was one of the best traveling experiences we’ve had in a long time. It helps that Sam is so easy to be around. He was just so flexible and napped on the go if he needed to.

        P.S. I think I got the link issue worked out with wordpress. My name should now link to my blog on my comments. Yay!

  4. Lis –

    your blog provides us a view of your life through a tiny window averaging about a few hundred words a day. we only see you a reflective observer of your world who tends towards humor and humble self-deprecation rather than risk a shred of arrogance. we also only see Mike through the halo-effect of your love & respect for him. you tend to be equally open about your flaws and his strengths, and thus, we watch through a biased window.

    having the benefit of knowing you pretty well, it’s clear that writing is such a healthy way for you coping with situations. I suspect that once you typed out the tale of the saws, smoke and dripping water, the stress and hatred for Laos you felt actually lessened internally although it did not necessarily appear so from our view. Whereas, if you only let us see the happy stuff, you’ll lose that release.

    while receiving sympathy & support in tough times is important and necessary, it also can encourage us to stay in a negative space. on the other hand, receiving honest and constructive criticism as you did is a blessing to help us reflect on how we view our world and quite frankly conduct a reality check. you may not agree, but if someone took the time to compose a concise well framed point, it’s probably important to consider.

    so, i appreciate that you addressed the issues raised in a public way, particularly being honest about your initial reaction then assessing why it stung and acknowledging the validity of the point. and most importantly, please continue to write from your heart and not try to force a “balance” if that’s not where you are and risk losing the raw sincerity of the blog. while we’re all entitled to our opinions, this is still YOUR blog 🙂

    • I miss you. Thank you for this, particularly for your very wise words about biased windows – I don’t think I’ve ever heard that particular dynamic put so well. We have wonderful ginger tea over here. Mike and I are sitting at the kitchen table drinking some right now and catching up on email after field time. I wish we could share a cup with you. Sending hugs.

  5. Your blogs are brilliant and I so admire your honesty, and that you allow yourself to be vulnerable.
    I lived overseas for many years and identify with so much of what you’re experiencing – the lack of electricity, the noise (I lived next to a mosque for years and experienced that ear-splitting call to prayer through a cracked microphone, it was as if the muezzin was screeching personally in my ear. Oh, and the bedroom that faced a chicken coop, and the lice that came in. And the cockroaches that scuttled from the drains and rose like a cloud when I entered the bathroom at 3:00 a.m. And the giant centipedes that slithered around my bed. And the leeches. But there was magic and mystery and breathtaking beauty too. Your blogs capture it all. DON’T CHANGE A THING.

    • Thank you, thank you. Yes, it’s certainly a mixed bag, isn’t it? It’s the noise that’s my personal nemesis. I can take (too a point) cockroaches and ants and the like, but the noise sets me off much faster than I wish it did! Hope your drains are currently cockroach free!

  6. if your blog was 100% possitive I wouldn’t read it. It would be unrelateable. Is that a word? And if people don’t know what’s bothering you they don’t know how to pray for you. Plus it helps me laugh about similar annoying things here in Japan, like the fact that in the (unairconditioned) bathroom I can hear one neighbor play the ukilele and on the other side of the house in my bedroom I can hear the other neighbors sneeze.

    • If unrelatable is not a word (and spell checker is telling me it’s probably not) it should be. I vote we just start using it and eventually it’ll catch on. The blogosphere suggests your life right now is full and busy and packed with adventure. Hope it’s all (ok, realistically let’s shoot for mostly) fun.

  7. Dear Lisa, when I saw the comment yesterday I also reeled for you. In my view, the most important proof of your love and dedication to Mike’s work and life goals is that YOU GOT ON THE PLANE TO LAOS. You got on that plane and you stood beside him to make your lives anew there. Ups and downs, peaks and troughs, he’ll always have in his heart that you did what he asked you to do. Many would not. You did. So now you are just calling day to day things as you see them. In my world, the biggest recent challenge for me has been having a second child that my husband desperately wanted. This meant IVF FOR US, horrible procedures for me, a difficult pregnancy and complications after birth, a baby who sleeps hardly at all. Do I see the joy in her? Of course, I do. Every single day, my beloved daughter. But do I vent about the whole thing. Of course I do. And I (like you) have every right. Even if other families are desperately trying for one child, let alone a second, I’m still allowed to express my true feelings. Same for you. Keep saying everything that is in your heart loud and proud. Because it’s true, it’s real and you got on that plane.

    • Dear Amanda, Your words about your daughter and you and your husband’s decisions on that front are beautiful, and honest. And tracking with you through facebook I’ve seen tiny glimpses of that for you this last year – both the joy and the challenges. Thank you for your encouragement, I really appreciate it, and I hope you guys all had a great weekend down there in my homeland.

  8. Lis, Love your blog and your honest and thoughtful comments. I think your openess about your fears really reflects how much you value Mike more than your self perception. Whilst his opinion is the only one that really matters (and you seem on pretty solid ground there) I can certainly vouch for your lack of weakness. Nice response from your poster as well. Keep writing Lis, I enjoy reading as much as you enjoy writing. MB.

    • MB – please pass along my best to RB. I have your guys blog on my google reader, so I regularly see your smiling faces. Thanks for these lovely words for me, and yes, I also thought it was a very nice (and incredibly quick) response from Candice.

  9. Dear Friend,

    No doubt you will return from the villages to a blog full of encouragement. Now, I know that the internet can’t replace face-to-face community. However, at a time when you are isolated, by distance, culture, and everything in between, I pray that you will read these posts and KNOW that these people are a part of your community. They are a part of who you are. And just as they are, hopefully, encouraging you daily through your journey, in Laos, in marriage, and in life, you are also encouraging them. That’s one of the greatest things about the “world-wide-web,” it expands our community. And therefore it it expands our understanding of the Creator.

    Love you, Friend.

    • Thank you sweet woman. Yes, the world wide web… what a major blessing it’s been in my life in so many ways and at so many different times – just as so many of the people who read and write to me are as well. And some of them I’ve even had the joy of sharing life with for a couple of years. I’m glad you were one of those. Hugs.

  10. I know you don’t need (or particularly like) pep talks. And that’s not what I am intending this to be. Instead I just want to share my perspective about the I’m-not-supporting-Mike-enough fear.

    Lisa, you most certainly are supporting him enough! Listening to the two of you interact while we were in Laos with you was refreshing…to say the least.

    Despite having spent some of the days we were there not feeling well (either due to a little too much night market or people working in your house and making tons of noise), you invariably gave time to Mike each night.

    You helped him compose important emails. You aided Mike in processing difficult and sticky issues. You encouraged him when it was clear that his patience was running thin regarding his visa. And, perhaps most importantly, you consistently helped make Mike smile and (at least from my vantage point) feel like a real person.

    After seeing you support Mike in these ways I was musing with Alida about how Mike’s organization was lucky when they hired Mike because they got not only him (and he’s great!) but they got his intelligent, thoughtful, and uber-helpful wife too.

    There are many real concerns in your life in Laos — large or small, public or private. Whether or not you are a good wife is not one of them!

    Thus ends the not-a-pep-talk pep talk.


    • You made me laugh with your into about pep talks. And you blessed me with these specific, encouraging, observations. Thank you for these words, and for the way that both you and Alida track with us and care. Your names came up the other night, as they do. Mike and I were talking about couples we know where both people seem to be operating within the “circle of their passions” and managing to balance those (sometimes very different) passions and thrive as a couple in the process. Hope you guys are having a good long weekend.

  11. I completely relate to your thought process here. I went through this when I was blogging after moving to Dallas. The move was tough – I was lonely, I felt purposeless, I didn’t have a way to get around the city, etc. Life wasn’t all bad, but it was a tough transition and that reflected in my writing on my blog because…. I blogged honestly. Eventually I did get a few comments like the one you received – really well-intended and trying to get me to see what was good and change my perspective.

    The difficulty of those comments is that they were true in some ways – it would have been good if I could have been fully content in my new home. However…. I knew that. I was working towards that. I was just also being honest about the spots where I found things tough, and writing about those spots actually did help.

    Don’t let the fact that our culture is uncomfortable with discomfort keep you from writing honestly! When blogs are purely happy-clappy you never feel as though you’re seeing the real person reflected in their writing.

    • Thanks Kacie. Yes, it’s not at all comfortable when something stings and you also know that there’s a good dose of solid truth in there and the fact that your feelings got a bit hurt along the way in no way negates that truth. Hope Dallas heat isn’t too heinous at the moment (if Dallas is where you are – I had a peek at your blog and looks like you’re either in China or have been there very recently??).

  12. Right now we have jet lag and the digger shovel with the large pneumatic hammer is tearing into the most illegal part of the mainly illegal building across the street. Isn’t life lovely? Too bad you’re not in Taiwan where life is perfect instead stuck in miserable Lala-land. Then you truly could write uplifting blogs and tread carefully around whatever unresolved issues from your childhood might come into play (wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Keep your sense of humor–and keep Mike’s! And in my humble opinion, sometimes jackhammers just have to be shared. Personally I think that throbbing rhythm made this comment what it is.

    • I don’t know about the rythm being key, personally I think my favorite phrase was “digger shovel”. Yeah, it’s too bad I’m not in Taiwan, where surely my life would be perfect and I would be happy. It’s too bad. Sigh. (PS Sorry to hear about the jet lag and the pneumatic hammer and I hope you guys are all really well).

  13. Hmmm…..many thoughts ran through my head and heart while I read this entire post as well as all the comments. But the one prevailing thought in my head and constant melody in my heart was this: I love you. 🙂 I know we’re still getting to know each other, but I can say this with all sincerity b/c you are my sister in Christ and b/c I see reflections of Jesus in so many things you do and have shared. So I’ll just end this comment with that:

    I love you my dear and precious sister in the Lord Jesus.

  14. Honest and authentic writing (especially blogging) is hard to come by. I love that I find it here.

  15. Top reasons I keep reading your blog: your transparency, your vulnerability, and your honesty. You have a gift and you keep it real. Don’t you change a thing!

  16. Dear Lisa,

    People who don’t know you or anything about you are totally addicted to your blog. It is the highlight of our days. Of course we wish that everything in life were perfect for you. Meanwhile, we are completely enchanted by your beautiful writing. Please, please, please keep writing about everything.

    With great fondness,
    Old friends you’ve never met

  17. A Tibetan friend once told me a story…

    There was a young monk being taught by a great Master. He was learning insight meditation; the Master left him on his own to make some progress.

    When the young monk felt he had made some great progression, he wrote a poem that went like this;
    “My meditation is so great that not even the smallest wind can destroy the stillness of my mind”
    In beautiful writing and sent the poem to his Master.

    When the Master received it he scrawled across the paper ‘FART” and sent it back.

    The young monk became so angry when he read it, his mind was churned and he could no longer meditate. He jumped up and travelled to the Master to say “why did you write such an ugly word on my beautiful poem?”

    The Master said “but I thought you said the smallest wind could not disturb?”….

    It is not the same as your situation. But I thought it would share, because sometimes there is a lot we can learn from a little mind disturbance… and I think it is a funny story.

  18. That is a great story – I’ll remember that one. Gosh, Laos is teaching me about winds of all different sort. Including, let’s be honest. farts. What is it about Asia and digestive upsets? Really? Anyway, enough of that. I hope you’re really well.

  19. Perhaps I’m a little late in commenting, because I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a while. But I wanted to say that I really appreciate your honesty in your writing. It’s so easy for people to paint an idealized picture of themselves and their lives on the internet, sharing just the good bits. Some times I even get a little envious, thinking “Oh, that person is always so on top of things, and she probably never procrastinates, and she’s so involved with life!” or something along those lines, before I realize that I’m only seeing what they’ve let me see about their lives.

    With you, I feel like I can trust you to paint an accurate picture of life. The ups and the downs. The triumphs and the tears. The moments when you’re awed and the moments when you’re annoyed. And I really love that. I love that I can relate. And I feel like, even in the moments when you’re down, you’re encouraging me because I know that I’m not the only one who goes through things like this.

    A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon that really made me think. It was about “being men to match our mountains.” The pastor told us that we only truly shine the light of God’s glory when we face our challenges and rise up to meet them. From what I can see from your blog and your writing, you are a “[wo]man to match your mountains.” And I hope that you will always find the strength to be that.

    Thanks, Lisa. God bless.

  20. Pingback: Does mummy need a time out? : Everything is Edible Blog

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