Let's Build Each Other Up - A Letter from Olivia Spears
(Click on the letters to enlarge)
To my sister, to my friend:
She spotted the pink and white checkered notepad before I had an opportunity to hide it in my drawer. I watched her eyes dance across my desk and rest on my written to-do list. Her gaze hovered over the dark black ink, its contrast betraying the truth about my worth.
“I love your handwriting!” she said emphatically.
My face flushed and I laughed awkwardly, “Yeah, it’s the worst.”
She looked up, her face betraying her confusion. “No, I’m being sincere. Your handwriting is really pretty.”
Throughout my elementary and high school education, I was consistently teased about the quality of my handwriting. It was neat and legible; but it lacked finesse, the apparent unspoken requirement of all competent teenage girls. Those closest to me would scoff upon glimpsing an essay I penned or jokingly volunteer me for Pep Club banner design. During class, my friends doodled in their notebooks. They effortlessly created colorful hand-lettered and illustrated masterpieces around the names of their boyfriends. Meanwhile, I was simply forcing myself to write my “a’s” differently to appear more artistic. Where their handwriting was swirly and feminine, mine was straight and slightly boyish.
I realized even then that their jeers weren’t mean-spirited. But they nevertheless affected the way I viewed this small part of myself and I became ridiculously self-conscious about it. I wasted hours trying to “fix” my handwriting, which was never really broken, in order to fit seamlessly into the woven pattern of expectation.
So when I went away to college and met my first friend during freshmen orientation, and she caught sight of my scribbled to-do list on my desk, I prepared myself for a similar coloring in her eyes. (Page 2) I steadied myself to carry the same insecurity throughout my higher education.
That’s why I didn’t believe my new friend when she complimented my handwriting. I couldn’t fathom that someone could see the good in what others’ had readily condemned. And this honest affirmation continued to occur. While I acknowledge that my handwriting is nothing special, my new friends, unaware of this particular insecurity of mine, complemented its neatness and consistency. They rebuilt what had been slowly damaged.
There is a verse in the Book of Isaiah that frequently comforts me: “Your builders outstrip your destroyers” (Isaiah 49:17). Sisters, we thrive most when we are surrounded by builders. Community is best when it’s comprised of people who see beauty in our insecurities, who look for the redemption in the midst of our failure, and who strive to love who we truly are instead of who the world suggests we should be.
"Community is best when it’s comprised of people who see beauty in our insecurities, who look for the redemption in the midst of our failure, and who strive to love who we truly are instead of who the world suggests we should be."
As Catholic women, if we desire a culture that seeks to build one another up, we must first do that within our own selves and interpersonal relationships. We must be builders. We have the power to create a culture of affirmation instead of degradation. Ultimately, being builders of ourselves, our loved ones, and our community will grant permission for everyone else to emerge with their unique skills, talents, and experiences to sure up the walls of this weary world. We have the ability to love one another for the unique gifts we are, and we will miss out on so much if we neglect to do so.
Sweet sister, I pray that you find a community in which you can be yourself, fully and unapologetically. If the Church is our home, we must serve as the comfort of home for one another.
Loving you to the heights, Olivia
Get to know Olivia Spears
Tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi hi hi! I’m Olivia and I’m 28 years old. I’m married to my high school best friend turned college sweetheart and we have two kiddos. I work from home full-time as a writer, editor, and social media manager. I’m an ISFJ melancholic-choleric so I’m a real ball of fun (wink).
How does your Catholic faith affect the way you live your day-to-day life?
My Catholic Faith offers me the opportunity for a deep relationship with Christ and the desire to become a saint. Because of this, I try to see every moment of my day as an invitation to know and love Jesus more and to strive for sainthood. I’m nowhere near perfect at this, but when I approach my days with a Catholic worldview, my heart is content and my mind is at peace.
From one Catholic woman to another, how have you discovered your sense of belonging in the Church?
To be honest, there has never been a moment when I didn’t think the Catholic Church was my home. I realize what a gift that is. There was, however, a time in which I was uncertain of my role within the Church. After I graduated college, I taught middle school Religion for a couple of years. I have a heart for ministry and I loved my job. When I became a mother, we made the decision that I would raise our son at home. I really struggled with the transition after he was born. I felt that my passion for teaching and sharing the Truth with others in a ministry setting was confined in some way and that that time of my life was over. Through my work with Catholic ministries like Blessed is She and this one, the Lord has dramatically taught me that my passion for my family and my passion for ministry can (and should) coexist. Our vocations and our subordinate callings are not incompatible.
"Our vocations and our subordinate callings are not incompatible."
What’s the most empowering piece of advice you’ve been given as a Catholic woman?
There is no one way to become a saint. A simple browse through the lives of the saints shows us that. I find it empowering and consoling that we become a saint through our realities, in our specific life circumstances and situations, and by striving to know, love, and serve the Lord exactly where He has placed us. The path to Heaven will look different for all of us, and that’s the beauty of God’s inexhaustible creativity and calling.
Tell us about a woman who inspires you. What lessons have you learned from her? How has she influenced your life?
My grandmother. She is marvelously faithful and takes sincere interest in everyone she encounters. Her love for God and for man truly has no limits. She assumes the best of even the worst people. She has endured more suffering in this life than anyone should, but only words of gratitude, praise, and comfort flow forth from her mouth. She is a true living saint, and I hope to be half the woman she is.
What’s your favorite way to pray?
In front of the Blessed Sacrament in Eucharistic Adoration.
What’s the best smell in the world to you?
Incense. It smells like God.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday off?
Lingering over multiple cups of coffee with my husband. Slow morning prayer and reading aloud with our children. In the summer, a trip to the farmers’ market; in the winter, a movie by the fire. Preparing a delicious meal with multiple, complicated steps while bluegrass plays in the background, my kids play with blocks, and my husband fills my wine glass. Early bedtime for our son and daughter and time to chat or watch a movie with my sweetheart.
Fill in the blank
A typical day in my life looks like…
Being woken up by one or both of my kids. I head straight to the kitchen to make coffee and breakfast. We play and read and move and listen to music. I start my workday while my husband takes the kids outside. Around noon, we gather for lunch and send dad off to work. I put the baby down for a nap and let the toddler watch a show while I work. In the afternoons, the kids play while I pick up and prepare dinner. We do dinner, bath, and bedtime. I pour myself a cup of iced coffee and begin the second half of my work day. Our weekdays are peppered with play dates, music class, library visits, book club, prayer group, grocery runs, and general life stuff.
My favorite quote is...
“There is nothing more beautiful than love.” - Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati
I feel most inspired when…
The Catholic Church is…
a home for everyone.