Monday, March 20, 2017

I'm Falling in Love...Finally

Let me first just say, it's about damn time.

For so long have I been going about life, surrounded by all things so utterly mundane, drowning in fear created by my own inability to fall in love with any of it. I was beginning to think it would never happen for me. I had come to terms with the fact that I, despite all the love I have to give, would never fall in love in return.

Looking back, I suppose it only makes sense. Time and time and time again, I have put my heart, paired with all I have to give, out on the line without reservation, never fully reciprocated. Believing I was in love so often - prepared to rip open my chest and hand over my guts. The process of rejection is exhausting, to say the least. Yet, I persisted again and again and again. Continuing down my path on this excursion, anxiously peering around in hopes of discovering anything that would accept my love.

But now, things have changed.

I'm finally falling in love.

I'm not falling in love with any one person. A knight in shinning armor has not appeared out of the dusk, swooping me up onto his trusty steed onto our own happily ever after.

Rather, I have found the strength to fall in love with every person, everything, every experience, everyday. I have decided to be my own Prince Charming, creating my own fairy tale ending.

After the immense effort to keep any passionate feelings of love bottled up on a daily basis, I have decided to let that go. I want every aspect of my life to overflow with honest, genuine love, drowning out anything that is not.

I choose to fall in love with every day. I play in the sun when it shines, and appreciate the rain that fuels the earth.

I will share love with each face I meet, each hand I shake. People are good. When people are not loved or cared for properly, they stray from their ability to see, do and accept good. I choose to cover those people in love. With the correct circumstances, people are good.

You owe it to yourself to fall in love with your daily life, simply because you are alive. Think about that. You are alive.

In no way do I mean to imply that falling in love is easy. I would branch out to say that it is quite the opposite. It is difficult to override negative feelings. Yet, oddly enough, it is important to acknowledge negativity, as it is only natural. Give sadness, anger, jealousy or confusion the attention they deserve. Feel all of your emotions, and then choose to bathe them in love.

I'm falling in love not because everything is perfect, but because everything that is so beautifully, frustratingly and uniquely flawed has brought me where I am right now, exactly where I am supposed to be.

Lastly, never forget that love is always worth it. No matter how short lived, or how painful the ending may be.

Love is always worth it.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Like the Mountains

Today I am sad.
Today I am scared.

This morning I did not want to get out of bed, I stared out at the gloomy day, as the weather mirrored my mood. However, I already know far too well that life doesn't stop for anyone or anything, so I pulled myself up to face the day ahead. 

After accomplishing very little, I decided it was time to take a trip to my personal meditation studio on the Blue Ridge Parkway. I could no longer function with the abundance of thoughts dancing around my brain. Something about the view, the feeling of crisp mountain air on my face and the silence that threatens to swallow you whole never fails to clear my mind and put my size into perspective.

As I trekked up the parkway, I noticed majority of the trees stand tall and bare. A few hold on tightly to their colors, but soon they too will fall. It is a season of change. Although my heart longs to live in a world with warm orange and red leaves year round, I know that is not realistic. It is necessary that they fall because they were not created to survive the winter. A form of self-protection, almost. The leaves must die so that they can grow back, strong and healthy, to begin a new life in the spring. The loss of all those vibrant colors means that soon branches will be covered in glittering white snow. So I will fret not, since I know there is always something just as uniquely beautiful ahead.

I reach Wilson Creek Valley, my favorite overlook by far. As usual, I am absolutely floored by the view and must remind myself to breathe. The mountains stand tall and sturdy, unaffected by the dreary day or the chaos of society surrounding it. I want to be like the mountains. Fearlessly bold and impossible to miss, resiliently facing whatever the weather may bring. Silently displaying their graceful beauty without boasting. And even in the strongest storm, the mountains never fall or falter. They face what is to come head on without any fear or loss of dignity.

Today I am sad. Today I am scared. But today I decided to be like the mountains. I will not let the weather surrounding me change who I am or the kind of person I want to be. Continuing to hold my ground for the things I believe in with grace, my voice will not be ignored. This fear will not conquer me. I will stand tall and true, knowing that there is something beautiful waiting just around the corner. I will not be alone. You will not be alone. We will come together and stand strong like the mountains, and we will make it through the storms ahead. 

Love conquers all. Love will always win. 

Monday, October 31, 2016

Down Syndrome Awareness Month with Moriah McKinney

The month of October is unlike any other for a list of various reasons. Summer has officially come to a close as the leaves begin to saturate the world with color. Football season is in full swing while athletes join the rest of the population, bathed in pink, to pay tribute to those who have battled Breast Cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The holiday season slowly starts to creep up with the promise of family gatherings and an overwhelming amount of food. Cool fall breezes lighten the hot air as kids of all ages impatiently plan out Halloween costumes. In 1984, October was also declared Down Syndrome Awareness Month, giving us yet another reason to celebrate.

Down Syndrome occurs when an infant has an extra copy of chromosome 21, which causes changes in the development of the body and brain. It is the most common chromosomal condition in the United States. According to March of Dimes, 1 in 700 babies is born with Down Syndrome. We are still unsure what exactly happens to create an extra chromosome, but it is known that the risk of having a child with "Downs" increases as a woman ages. In addition to developmental delays, other health problems including congenital heart defects, hearing loss, intellectual and developmental disabilities, sleep disorders, and vision problems are common among those with Down Syndrome.

Despite the challenges they face, people with Downs can still live normal, healthy lives. Moriah McKinney constantly breaks the mold, proving anyone who may doubt her wrong, as she bravely pursues the life she desires. "It [Down Syndrome] means feeling sick because of other people, but I don’t really feel sick. It makes me feel different, so I just keep singing a lot." Moriah was born in Miami, Florida and moved to Boone, North Carolina when she was a child. On November 14th, she will turn 25. She loves purple and boys, but she clarifies, "my favorite thing is watching 'Hocus Pocus' a lot. Making brownies, baking, cooking and painting my nails and fashion and laughing with my friends." Moriah was one of the first friends I made when I moved 300 miles from home for college in 2014. I hold our friendship very close to my heart.

Moriah is a graduate of Appalachian State University's Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program. The Scholars with Diverse Abilities Program (SDAP) is a two year program specific to college aged students with intellectual disabilities. The purpose of the program is to prepare each student for adulthood, achieve personal growth and solidify occupational skills for future employment. Moriah feels confident with the knowledge she gained from SDAP, but she's not fond of being a graduate, as she explained, "I hate it. I wish I were still there. I miss having so much fun with all of my friends."

With her education behind her, Moriah has continued on to conquer adulthood. On August 23rd of this year, she moved out of her parents house and into her own apartment. Although she loves the freedom, it has come with a lot of responsibilities. “Getting groceries, learning how to be an adult and I just want to hang out with my friends and roommates all the time. I like to go out a lot and be around town. I volunteer with SDAP still. I’m working very hard. I work at Haircut 101, which is really hard but I know I can do it. And I love to get paid. I do the clean-up jobs, sweep the floors, clean the coffee maker, dishes and counters. I talk to everyone who comes in and that’s my favorite part. Sometimes I pick on them.”

When I asked Moriah what she would like others to know about Down Syndrome, she took a deep breath, pausing for a moment as I watched the gears churning in her head. Finally, she shared;

"I’m scared that people are still scared of Down Syndrome. It doesn’t make me feel good and it scares me for them. I have problems too. I’m trying to get more help for it, but people don’t see my problems are real. It makes me hate being like this. I just want help. When I’m sad, I see you [Annie] and I see my friends, but a lot of people run away from me. At the same time, I have so many real friends. I know that they will have my back and be there for me. I think when you have Down Syndrome, some people don’t like you as much. And I’m okay with that. I’m beautiful, and sweet and friendly and kind and nice. Sometimes I can be sassy or a goofball. My friends call me that. I’ve learned how to move on and let things go. I’m still growing up too. I’m becoming an adult.”

Thank you for being such a large part of my life, Moriah. I am a better person because I have the privilege to know and love you.

Monday, October 17, 2016


I encourage you to stop.

Set aside your obligations and worries, and look around. Encounter every detail in all of its intricate, natural being. Allow yourself to be awed. You are here. This is now. Don't take it for granted.

Look towards the sky. Scientists 'roughly' suggest there are 10 trillion galaxies in the universe. Astronomers estimate there are 100 thousand million stars in the Milky Way alone. Whether or not you can see them at this moment in time, they will always remain right above you. Radiantly glowing, beautiful as ever, despite their temporary invisibility. Be sure to look at the sky more often, no matter the weather.

Pay more attention to the people surrounding you. Notice them, realizing that each stranger in front of you is living a life just as complex as yours. Every one of us is so particularly placed, moving forward in life as we make decisions and overcome obstacles. Stumbling into each other as serendipity takes control. There is an abundance of similarities between us as humans, and yet we are all so individualistic. Even the most identical set of twins have an infinite number of unique variations. No two people are the same. There has never been and will never be someone like you. Find power in that.

Give as much of your heart as you can, but be sure to leave plenty for self care. Love as often as possible. In this life, the people we surround ourselves with will be the most beautiful things we hold. Love others honestly and sincerely. Genuine, pure, healthy love, is never a waste of time. No matter how short lived or painful its ending may be. In any shape or form, love is always worth it. Hold tightly while you can, and know when to let go.

Do not seek perfection. It is boring, lifeless and flat. Open your eyes to appreciate the fine details in the life you have worked for. Awaken a love for each day you live. Stop running around with your eyes, mind and heart sealed shut. Do not leave the things that make your mind race up to chance. Life is messy and wild; serene and striking.

Your road will end. Travel well.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Camp Able 2016: One Love

On Wednesday July 13th, at approximately 10 AM, Camp Able staff lined the entrance of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Marco Island, Florida. After two rigorous days of staff training and a years-worth of anticipation, it is finally time for the campers to arrive, transforming Marco Island into Camp Able's playground, utilizing the church as home base. Old and new friends arrive one by one, greeted with hollering, sweaty hugs and a sea of smiles. This is our family. This our home.

Camp Able Marco had 54 campers and 120 volunteer staff this summer; a record-breaking count to celebrate its tenth year of fun. Some of us travel from places as far as Mississippi, Atlanta, North Carolina, Los Angeles and Chicago as we come together to pursue true joy. With the Bob Marley inspired theme, "One Love", each member of Camp Able arrives more determined than ever to experience, create and embrace this special love that molds our hearts.

Once the business of checking-in is taken care of, the counselors guide our friends to a long list of morning activities they can choose from. The options include paddle boarding and kayaking, fishing, a day at the spa, tubing, movies and mini golf, a trip to the shooting range or a relaxing morning on the beach, just to name a few. Morning activities are followed by lunch, rest period, dinner and a special evening event to bring the Able family together after a day of exploration. Counselors reach Fitbit step goals and chug at least three heavily caffeinated Starbucks drinks before noon, so we can chase happiness alongside our campers without reservation. As the week progresses, it becomes more and more challenging to distinguish campers from counselors.

Throughout our days together, we gather to sing the theme song, a mash-up of Bob Marley's "One Love" and "I Don't Think" by Sowflo. 
The boys sing:
"One love, one heart
Let's get together and feel alright"
While the girls accompany with:
"I don't think this world might change for us
But in the process we may better ourselves
Let's change the world"

The impeccable timing of Camp Able, the role it plays in my life and its influence on my worldview never ceases to amaze me. We are currently living in a nation that is overcome by hate, in a world that is controlled by fear. I will be turning twenty in the beginning of August, having already completed my first two years of college. I look at the state of the world surrounding me, and I am terrified of what I am stepping into. I am afraid for the future of our nation. I am afraid for the well-being of mankind. I am afraid that my efforts will never be enough. This world needs understanding, tolerance and compassion. We need unity. We need love.

Camp Able never allows me to dismiss or forget the beauty this world still has to offer, despite the negativity that seems to be drowning us. Our campers do not have disabilities, they have diverse abilities, just like everybody else. We all have flaws and faults as well as strengths and gifts. It is a necessity that we accept and acknowledge the importance of "diversability" as we come together in order to achieve "one love, one heart." The spirit of Camp Able makes me feel significant. It gives me hope and a sense of purpose. Every moment at Camp Able is saturated with love and joy. Now, we must work to bring this peace and acceptance to the rest of the world. With the strength of our family, I have faith that the world can come together despite our differences. Love will conquer all. Let's change the world.

What does Camp Able mean to you?

- Katie Jernigan & Andrea Feeney

- Nuria Ferreria & Kaylee Janett

"Honest love"
-Olivia Orr

"Acceptance; safe haven"
-Maggie Neeley

"Pure love"
-Anthoni Andretti

"Unconditional love & acceptance & safe FUN!"
-Patrick Smith-Clan

"A place to be your whole self, without judgement. A place of equality and everlasting friendships between all individuals. Where we recognize that disabilities exists in all of us, but we choose to embrace them as a part of our being. A place where individuals are not labeled as campers, but as friends."
-Maria Pollara

"Family & relentless love"
-Caroline Santos

"Laughter, joy, hugs & loving grace"
-Denise Beasley

"Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love."
-Ephesians 4:1-2

Friday, June 3, 2016

Claire Estep: Still Proud

 Two hefty “For Sale” signs have recently been hammered into the lawn of my childhood home. I am never really in town, due to college, so the signs didn't cross my mind twice until the morning of the first showing a few days ago. Mom announced that the realtor was giving a walk through to the first prospective buyer at 10, before she hurried off to work. I was left to get ready as per usual for my job waiting tables. Shower, fix hair, makeup, iron clothes…the same ho hum as always.

 As I stood in front of the mirror mounted on my off-white dresser, making sure I was presentable and ready to go, I spotted the pictures of my girlfriend and me wedged into the side of the mirror. My room had recently been painted so all the photos on my walls had been taken down.  I still wanted them in sight, and my mirror seemed like the next best option. Suddenly, I thought,  “I should take them down. What if they made the buyer offended and not purchase the house because of my homosexuality? What if the realtor no longer felt comfortable showing our house?” Questions raced through my head as I stood there. I looked at the picture of my girlfriend beautiful, hair perfectly in place with a huge shining smile that routinely takes my breath away.  One single tear slid down my face as I grabbed my keys and walked out the door for work, leaving the pictures in place.

 At this same time, Pride Month is just getting started.  Around the world there will be celebrations, rainbows adorning any imaginable surface, glitter, and confetti. The one year anniversary of the legalization of gay marriage will be celebrated along with many first wedding anniversaries of homosexual couples. Parades will proceed through city streets. Equality will be demanded. Loud and proud homosexuals, bisexuals, trans individuals, etc. will be elated to spend this month in these sort of festivities. This is the "pride" we have all heard of and seen on social media. This is the typical display of flamboyancy by which conservatives are so turned-off, but pride doesn't always look the same. Some people, like myself, have been raised in environments where being open about whom you love is unacceptable; forget being proud. Pride month looks different for people like us.

 I'm sure many non-heterosexuals raised in the deep south can relate. Your family does not always support you, and even those that do are not necessarily supportive of you being open. Schools are full of conservative people with spiteful words that bite at any sense of security you have mustered. These bullies' words are fed by those of their parents; a cycle of hatred bred into the gene pool. Hatred continues onto more people than just those in direct contact. The parent of your mom's friend's dog sitter who added you on social media six years ago will post article after article about how she is now boycotting Target because they removed gender labels from children's toys, or something absurd like that. No matter where you turn, there is bigotry and small-mindedness everywhere. These simple acts make Pride Month, and pride in general, difficult to celebrate. Acts of pride may dwindle from a large parade adorned in rainbows to something much, much smaller. Do not be fooled, these acts are still just as full of bravery and pride.

 Sometimes it's not closing your bedroom door to hide the rainbow flag on your apartment wall when new people come over. Grabbing the hand of the girl you are seeing while eating Panera in Alabama. Actually accepting the Facebook invite to a band performance at a local gay bar and now "hiding" it from your timeline, or leaving pictures of you and your girlfriend hung up. Being proud in an environment that has only ever told you to not be is a huge feat. Whatever little thing you do to stand up for your life and sexuality is a display of pride.

 This June, celebrate who you are. Whether it be with a grand display or something small and to yourself, you deserve to be proud of the beautiful soul that you are. Lastly to the allies that will be celebrating alongside this month, we thank you for your care and support.

-Claire Estep

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Sorry, I'm Not Sorry


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a woman is: 
1) a : an adult female person
b : a woman belonging to a particular category (as by birth, residence, membership, or occupation) 
2: womankind
3: distinctively feminine nature : womanliness
Simple enough, right? By the terms of literary definition, sure. 

Let's take a closer look at the third definition provided, and define the word womanly:
1: like or befitting a woman; feminine; not masculine or girlish

And, feminine:
1: having qualities or appearance traditionally associated with women, especially delicacy and prettiness (ladylike)

Growing up, I struggled to fulfill the expectations of being a woman. This seems silly, even to me, as being a woman should be as simple as having the female anatomy. After almost twenty years on planet Earth, I have come to find that it's not quite that easy. Far too often, I felt the pressure to be more delicate, soft spoken, refined, pure and agreeable as a woman, only to continuously come up short and a little embarrassed at my own difficulty to carry myself in a "ladylike" manner.  Additionally, I have been envious of women who are able to be gentle and tender with such ease.  These traits are lovely and endearing for those whose personalities naturally carry them, as our differences are what make each of us so beautifully unique.

Overtime, I have come to terms with who I am rather than wishing to be a woman I am not. I am loud, confrontational, wild, sarcastic, outspoken, an odd combination of antsy yet laissez faire, slightly inappropriate at times, very honest and all around a hot mess. In the patriarchal world we inhabit, my personality has led others, specifically men, to so lovingly refer to me as a "crazy bitch" for doing the same things that men are expected to do on a daily basis. No worries boys, I fully understand how one would find a woman who refuses to sit down and accept anything but equality, respect and fairness intimidating. And for the record, I'm really not sorry about all.

Although I am not society's poster child for the traditional expectations of a lady, that does not make me any less of a woman. I will be the first to admit that my vibes do not fit into everyone's cup of tea. I am handful to say the least, but I am proudly and unapologetically myself, regardless of what anyone else may think about me. Take it or leave it, because at the end of the day, I'm still going to be a bad bitch.

What does being a woman mean to you?

"Being comfortable in my own skin...we come in all shapes and sizes, and we are all beautiful in our own ways. It means being able to look in the mirror and know God has a purpose for me that is greater than all that is of this world."
-Anissa Weaver

"Having the power to (potentially in the future) create another freaking life because that's insanely awesome."
-Kelsey Switzer

"Never giving up... All of our lives we are pushed down by the societal traditions to stay at home, look pretty, keep everything clean, be a good cook, raise the kids, and don't complain. Yet now we are starting to live in a world where people are starting to listen, people are starting to see that women haven't been treated equally and shouldn't be locked into these primitive stereotypes. If women all those centuries ago had given up on fighting to be heard, women wouldn't be where they are today."
-Ellen Salaun

"Finding beauty in everything, being naturally maternal and comforting people. Everyone makes us seem like delicate flowers (we are) but we're also badasses (we prove this monthly). Our bodies are literally what brings life to the earth...nothing more amazing than that."
-Jennifer Jardine

"We are daughters of a King, God Almighty. We are royal princesses once we step into our identity. We are the precious, pure and beautiful bride of Christ."
-Elizabeth Inyang

© Unapologetic
Maira Gall