Isn’t it crazy?! We are officially in the fifth month of the year, which means that once again, Christmas is like tomorrow.
But like, just kidding.
In all seriousness though, Summer is tomorrow.
Actually, it felt like Summer occurred this past week because Mother Nature blessed us with some mid 80 temperatures.
I sincerely hope that you were all able to enjoy some of those rays and Vitamin D!
Anyway, welcome to another serious post this week.
First off, I can’t begin to express the amount of extreme thankfulness and gratefulness that I have in my heart for every single comment, message, and text from last week’s post. It is incredibly overwhelming and humbling to see the amount of support that I have in this world and it makes me very sad to know that there are people in this world that are going through the same struggle who do not have that level of support system around them.
It has been one week since I was called fag while running on the back country roads of Lititz.
And while I continue to move forward with my life, I have to say that moment is going to be something that sticks with me for quite some time.
Actually, it is something that is probably going to stick with me for all of eternity.
It is not something that can just be brushed under the rug.
And if you think brushing it under the rug is a possibility, I will challenge you until Kingdom come, because you are not living a reality.
And now, I ask you three very important questions.
Do you ever wake up in the morning and leave your house in fear?
Have you ever had suicidal thoughts or thoughts of hurting yourself?
Have you ever been made fun of or stared at because of the person you are?
And while some of you might have answered ‘yes’ to either none, one, or two of the questions above, I want you to know that I have answered ‘yes’ to all three questions throughout my 33 years on this Earth and continue to say ‘yes’ to these questions even as we live out our lives in the 21st century.
The year is 2021.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
I live in the city of Lancaster and after last week’s incident, I have become so much more hyper-aware of my surroundings. I have a genuine fear now when I open the door to step foot outside because I, JP Welliver…Mr. Sunshine, could be the target of a hate crime or act of violence because of the person I am.
Because of the fact that I like men.
During my college days, I went through my share of thoughts about hurting myself and while I can say that those thoughts are not ones that have entered my mind since graduating back in 2010, there are people around me who have not been as lucky.
And that make me sad and emotional.
And it should make you emotional too because people are hurting/killing themselves because of who they are.
We as humans need to open up on our arms to EVERYONE regardless of who they are and offer our support and love because the word around us is f***ed up and terrifying.
Pardon my French.
People NEED us.
They NEED our love.
They NEED our kindness.
The fact that we continue to live in a world that judges us, stares at us, and mocks us because of the people we love is absolutely ridiculous and it is something that I struggle with because that was not how I was brought up to live my life.
I was taught to love all, support all, and be there for all.
No questions asked.
The moment of being called fag last week while running in my hometown where I was raised and always felt safe has made me waver and falter.
And as angry as I am at the individual who screamed that offensive language at me and as angry as I will always be, I still wish that individual a life of love and one that will allow them to open their eyes to the world of fabulous colors and diversity that lives among them.
My heart still hurts.
It always will.
And while I realize that not everyone in this world will be one who recognizes me with support because of the people I love and will always constantly try to knock me off the ladder, I will continue to do my best to be a worker of light and love throughout my daily life.
I can’t stress the entities of love and kindness enough.
I beg you as people who come back week after week to read my blog to really pause, think, and act on what is right.
Being an object of hate is something that can happen to anyone…at any given moment, including Mr. Sunshine.
Live and act with love.
Be intentional with your love and kindness to others.
And do not falter or let those around you make you stumble.
I appreciate each and every one of you for the constant support, love, and kindness that you show me day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year.
I will be on a blogging hiatus until June, so until then, please be well. And please share love and kindness intentionally.
Here we are experiencing another Monday as we enter into the last week of April.
But as we enter this final week of the fourth month, I can officially say that I’m a fully vaccinated Mr. Sunshine! Yay!
I’m so incredibly grateful and thankful for all of the volunteers that made getting my vaccine possible (and a pleasant experience) at Vaccinate Lancaster.
Typically, I like to be ahead of the game and have my blog posts written and scheduled by the end of the week; however, this week, I wasn’t motivated to write at all.
But something happened to me yesterday afternoon that got me so upset that I knew right away it was what I was going to blog about.
So, here we go.
Yesterday, April 25th…
I was spending some time at my parents having lunch after church and decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather with a 7 mile run on the back, country roads of Amish Country.
It was about 2pm in the afternoon and I was running on West Lincoln Avenue when I saw an approaching truck going a bit slower than the speed limit of 45mph that displays on the signs by the side of the road.
And as the truck got closer, the man in the passenger seat (who I would say looked no older than my age), shouted the word “fag” very loudly in my direction as my feet continued to hit the pavement.
And as I continued to run forward without looking back, I could hear the truck speed up and squeal his tires.
And while I didn’t stumble over my feet at what had just transpired and tried to keep my head held high, I felt defeated inside and started to cry as I continued to run.
And those tears were more than just tears.
They were a symbol of the fact that bigotry, hate, and prejudice are still very much alive and well in our Country…even in the small town of Lititz.
And the year is 2021.
And it is heartbreaking.
The tears dried up quite quickly as I ran back to my parents’ house because of the brisk wind, but the lasting effects of the word that had been shouted at me by that individual were very much alive and well in my mind.
Please understand that I’m not writing this post as a pity party.
In fact, it is the furthest thing from that.
What I’m actually trying to accomplish is for those of you who have blinders over your eyes to peel them off and look out your window.
Take a moment right now as you read this to pause and look out the window…wherever that might be in your current habitat.
Or at least take a moment later in your day to look out the window, but please make sure to take a moment to do so.
And as you gaze out that window, I ask you to look at the world around and realize that it is not perfect and far from it.
And after looking out the window and at the world, go look at yourself in the mirror.
And as you look at yourself in the mirror, take a moment to ask yourself this question:
“Am I enabling the problem or helping to end it.”
While I realize that some of you have never experienced a moment of bigotry, prejudice, or hate (and might never experience one), I need you to understand that it still exists.
Very much so.
For so many people from all different walks of life…not just gay men.
And it is a reality that I have lived in these 33 years of life more than once. More times that can be count on your fingers and toes combined.
And while I hope and pray that we will eventually live in a world where these entities do not exist, I sincerely hope and pray that you will do your best to show love and kindness to everyone you meet and to help bring an end to discrimination and all the elements of hatred that come along with it.
So, as I close out this week’s post, I share this quote that really resonated with me, especially given the moment I experienced yesterday and how I will not allow it to keep me from spreading the love and kindness that I work to spread each and every day as Mr. Sunshine.
“One who is kind is sympathetic and gentle with others. He is considerate of others’ feelings and courteous in his behavior. He has a helpful nature. Kindness pardons others’ weaknesses and faults. Kindness is extended to all — to the aged and the young, to animals, to those low of station as well as the high.” -Ezra Taft Benson
Another week is officially in the books. Can you believe that we are almost halfway through April?!
The time is seriously just going way too fast.
Anyhoo, let’s get down to business.
It is currently 10:40pm on a Sunday night, which means that it is the ideal and prime time for me to be writing the words that you are currently reading.
And as I sit here writing this week’s post, I’m currently listening to pouring down rain, rumbling cracks of thunder, and watching flashes of lightning happening outside the windows of The Sunshine Cottage.
And as the candle on the coffee table burns and The Golden Girls play in the background, I think to myself that even in the world of Mr. Sunshine, there are moments that bring a few rumbles of thunder and clouds.
Anyone else have these moments of rumbles in their life?
As we continue to live in this pandemic, I can’t help but think that there is one word that has decided to creep into all of our lives as we grasp with the fact of what a “new normal” might be.
And that word that I’m talking about is this: anxiety.
What is anxiety?
We could go around and ask everyone in our lives what they feel the definition of this word is and we could come back with 100 different definitions.
According to Dictionary.com, the word anxiety is defined as the following:
Distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune
Earnest but tense desire; eagerness
A state of apprehension and psychic tension occurring in some forms of mental disorder
According to the ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America), here are a few quick facts and statistics about anxiety:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.
Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
As someone who has been given the nickname of Mr. Sunshine (that I continue to wear proudly), I tend to believe that people around me think that the actions and word of anxiety are not something that I experience.
And, let me tell you folks, anxiety is real even in the life of Mr. Sunshine.
The year is 2021 and I have a stronger conviction and passion now more than ever to make sure that we are taking time in our lives to talk about this very word.
It is a real thing.
And it is a real thing that real people around us are experiencing.
And it is a real thing that can cause even more serious issues if it is not talked about.
So, how does one deal with anxiety, especially when they are nicknamed Mr. Sunshine?
Well, here are my personal tips and tricks.
Make sure to set aside time during each day to do something that brings you joy. This can be anything. For me, one of those things is running. It is a time where I get to release toxins, decompress, and clear my mind.
Start a journal. Being vulnerable and writing out our thoughts and feelings on a piece of paper can be an exercise of such great therapeutic relief. Try it.
Take time to laugh every single day. Laughter is the best medicine. It can relax us, reduce our stress, and even boost our immune system.
Use the support system of friends and family when you need some extra love, support, guidance, or encouragement. Reach out when needed and don’t be embarrassed if you are struggling.
Talk about it. You will never be able to foster a healthy environment for you (or anyone around you) if you aren’t willing to share and talk about your struggles. Be vulnerable. Be real. Be genuine.
These 5 things are just a few of the biggest entities that help me get through and cope with any anxiety that I might be feeling in life at any given moment.
And while these tips will not work for everyone since we are all created with beautiful, different unique qualities, the most important thing above all to remember is to seek professional help if you are struggling on a deep level.
Anxiety is a real word.
It is a real thing that many of us have experienced, are currently experiencing, or will experience in the future.
It appears that the Winter chill decided to bear its ugly face to us once again toward the end of this week with brisk, bitter winds and chilly temperatures.
Couple that with news stories about darkness, violence, and shootings that literally appear to happen every single day…
…And you are left with a pretty depressing scene.
It can make it hard to see the warmth and positivity of the Springtime sunshine that we all seem to be craving.
And in these moments that our world has been experiencing, you might be asking yourself the question of:
“How does a person nicknamed Mr. Sunshine stay positive?”
Well, I would be lying to you if I said there weren’t moments of exhaustion, stress, and wanting to scream that I experience every now and then.
In times of the coldness, one of my favorite things to do in order to stay both warm and positive is to sit on the couch, curl up with a blanket, light a candle to bring scents of ocean water and sand to life, and put my favorite movie on in the background.
And if you don’t know what my favorite movie is by now…
…Well then, shame on you.
The title of this blog pretty much gives it away in case you need a little hint.
My favorite movie is of course The Wizard of Oz.
It has been my favorite for as long as I can remember. A classic that everyone should see at least once in their life.
It honestly never gets old no matter how many times I have seen it.
And that count has to be at least 1,000 times.
So, before I dive into some of the “deep, thoughtful” portions of this week’s post, let me share some fun facts about this movie/show production.
I was up for the part of the scarecrow my freshman year of high school and I was TERRIFIED going through the callback process. The day of callbacks was also the day of the wedding rehearsal for my cousin Rick (and his wife Pam) that I was playing at, so it a vivid memory that will always be in my mind. Needless to say, I did not get the part (I actually lost it to the guy who was my first crush…imagine that). I ended up being a singing crow in the production, which sounds dumb, but I literally had such a blast.
Even at age 33, The Wicked Witch of the West still scares me.
I got to be a production of this show again in my adult life at EPAC in December of 2017 and even got to reprise my role as a singing crow. It was like a full circle moment for me.
The opening music during the credits always fills me with such emotion and nostalgia from the very first note.
One of my favorite productions that I have ever witness of this show is The Fulton’s version that was done back in 2015.
Well, enough of the fun, random facts. It’s time to get down to the “deep, thoughtful” Mr. Sunshine words for this week’s topic.
When I watch this movie, especially at a time when the world seems so full of despair, I’m reminded of some very important life lessons that are even more prevalent in my adult life.
In fact, they are life lessons that every single one of us could take away after experiencing Dorothy and her friends travel down the yellow brick road.
Life Lesson #1: -Be unique. And Embrace every moment of it.
Dorothy and her friends The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion all have faults within themselves that they learn about as they meet up and start their journey to The Emerald City. But they are able to embrace those faults and learn through each other’s uniqueness that not everyone is the same and that working together as a team and embracing the differences and faults with love will only strengthen the bond of friendship.
Life Lesson #2: -Never give up.
Even though these four loyal friends are presented with multiple hardships from The Wicked Witch of the West–poppies, winged monkeys, trees that throw apples, large fireballs, and many other wickedly concoctions, they never give up and learn to persevere to the very end.
Life Lesson #3: -Follow your dreams.
No matter where you are at in life, never give up on your dream and always remember to take a few moments to travel over the rainbow to follow your very own yellow brick road.
Life Lesson #4: -Sometimes, you just need some help and support from your friends.
Nobody can make it in this world–especially with how harsh and dark it can be some days–without the help, support, and love of our friends. Don’t forget who those people are in your life and never feel ashamed to reach out and lean on them when needed.
Life Lesson #5: -Don’t try to be something you’re not. Be yourself.
Literally, people. Just stop trying to fake it until you make it. If there is one thing that irritates me more than the word hate, it is seeing someone trying to be something they are not. Just be yourself. Please. Faking it and trying to be something he wasn’t didn’t work out too well for The Wizard himself and it won’t work for you. Mmmbyeee.
Life Lesson #6: -There is no place like home.
This one is a given because it is basically the tag line of this movie. And it couldn’t be anymore true. Even though I have been living in my house for 5 years in Lancaster City, there is just nothing like going home for a night or weekend on the homestead. A home-cooked meal, some ice cream, TV show or movie watching, rummy card playing, or even just some conversation–there just aren’t moments that beat these. And Dorothy realized this sentimental reality just at the right time, but I’ve been lucky enough to learn it quite early in life and appreciate it for every single moment of joy and happiness it brings me.
Well, folks there you have it.
My favorite movie and the life lessons that it has and continues to remind me of every single time I sit down to watch.
It brings me warmth, joy, and a sense of positivity in a world that likes to and shatter our warmth with coldness on the daily.
It’s time for us all to step back, travel over the rainbow, and find the courage to follow our yellow brick road.
Another week of March has come and gone. And what a stressful week it was. The stories of violence, hatred, and darkness continue to flood our lives each and every day.
It just doesn’t let up.
And it is hard to not become emotional and begin to tear up when reading all the details.
One upside to this week was the fact that our church began official in-person worship yesterday for Palm Sunday–the first time in over a year. It was hard to not feel emotions of joy and happiness while playing the music and speaking the words within the service.
The feeling of togetherness and connection was so real, raw, and invigorating.
Anyhoo, I digress.
Time to get to this week’s post.
For the past six months, I have had the pleasure of housing a special “guest star” at Sunshine Cottage.
And this week, I have to say goodbye as he travels back to Ohio/New York.
So, this week’s post is for you, James.
My Dearest James,
Never in a million years did I think I would have the opportunity to have you as a roommate, but what a bright light for the shitty year that 2020 was.
I feel like I owe Instagram for bringing us together since I remember following you on your Legally Blonde tour journey while sliding into your DM’s when I would see you in Hershey recording music.
And then, I had the wonderful reality of being able to witness you RIGHT HERE IN LANCASTER–my favorite Instagram celebrity!
And I got to witness you master the role of Pepper in Mamma Mia at The Fulton.
And clearly seeing it once wasn’t enough since I literally saw it a total of four times.
Sorry not sorry. No shame.
In these past six months, I have witnessed you grasp with the reality of having to uproot your life quickly to supplement and pivot in a different direction since the world of theater and arts was traumatized by the pandemic.
You have grit, passion, SO much talent, a handsome smile, and just about every quality needed to find success in the world and you better believe that I will be coming to visit you as you rock Fire Island with your incredible talent and smolder.
In addition, when you make your premiere on Broadway, you better believe that Mr. Sunshine is going to expect front row tickets AND an autographed head shot.
During your time with me, I feel like you have seen me at some of my worst moments–from my painful eye injury to me screaming and yelling at my desk during work as you were trying to slumber upstairs.
I can’t tell you how much I have appreciated the morning coffee talks and human connection to just vent and talk about anything and everything. Whatever was happening in the world—I was sure to get the low down according to James and it was glorious.
I enjoyed being able to watch history being made when we watched the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.
You introduced me to Malbec wine from the black box. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it.
We got to go through the intensity of having a little mouse rodent scampering around the cottage wreaking havoc amongst our attempts to stay calm.
To add to this, I can’t tell you how much I’ve enjoyed the moments of hearing you sing and play the piano–an instrument that has literally not been touched since I moved to Lancaster back in 2016.
You have forced me to open up my repertoire in regards to shows and series on Netflix, but were also gracious enough to sit and watch the occasional episode of Golden Girls with me too.
During your time here, we enjoyed full seasons of American Horror Story where we dimmed the lights and said the phrase “Oh no” a gazillion times as we sipped our adult beverages.
We also enjoyed the Bridgerton and Hollywood series, which were incredibly exhilarating and fun.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am for the fact that you were gracious enough to share the spotlight with me for your LIVE Instagram show, Yeah You Right to support my Miles 4 Smiles campaign. That, along with the LIVE Instagram Yeah You Right show on your birthday and doing some impromptu shots are two of my favorite moments that I got to share with you, especially the moment when I got to tickle the ivories as you belted Carrie Underwood.
We have experienced Fall fantasies of raking leaves in the backyard (well you raking and me watching from a distance), Winter fantasies of shoveling show off the front sidewalk, and Spring fantasies of belting showtunes with the piano in the living late on a Friday night as the open windows brought in a whisp of fresh air.
You have added the phrases of “werkkkk” and “come through” into my vocabulary and every time I hear them come out of my mouth, I will think of you.
You are one-of-a-kind. An original. You are THE James Oblak.
Thank you for being such a wonderful guest star at The Sunshine Cottage. I have had a blast and while I’m incredibly sad to see you go, I’m very excited to see what the future holds in store for you.
I wish you nothing but the best in your future endeavors and sincerely hope you know that you will always have a home here at Sunshine Cottage if you ever find yourself backin Lancaster.
Thanks for the being the Blanche to my Rose.
You have my love forever and always.
All my hugs and love, Mr. Sunshine
P.S.–My OnlyFans will be more popular than yours…haha. You didn’t think I could write an entire letter without giving you some classic Mr. Sunshine sass, did you?!
Well, folks. I’ll see you next week when it is officially April! I wish you all a joyous Easter holiday.
Happy Monday! Happy new week! Happy almost end of March!
Isn’t it crazy how fast the time is going? Before we know, it’s going to be Easter, Summer, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and then 2022!
Anyhoo, I digress.
I’m currently sitting on my bed, wrapped in a blanket with The Golden Girls playing in the background.
Sounds about right for Mr. Sunshine on a Sunday night, right?
Well, actually…every night really.
And as I sit here writing, I’m listening to the song “Undivided” on repeat. It is a newer song that I have my friend Marissa to thank for introducing me to it.
It is a short little ballad, but one that packs quite the punch with its lyrics. It is sung by Country artists Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard.
And even though I’ve listened to it about a million gazillion times, I still get chills each time I listen.
The lyrics are ones that continue to be extremely relevant to all that is happening in the world around us.
And after a week where we saw news stories about shootings in Atlanta targeted at Asian Americans, it is a song that poses the question to each and every one of us about when we are going to stop hating.
And anyone who knows me knows that I do not like the word hate. In fact, it is something that I wrote as one of my “fun facts” in the “About Mr. Sunshine” section of this very blog page.
“I don’t like the word “hate” and will often try to substitute with the phrase “dislike very much.” If you ever catch me saying the word “hate” in my writing or live conversation, please call me out and make me give you a dollar.”
But in all seriousness…
Are you able to answer the question that Tim and Tyler ask us in the song?
When are we going tostart to see from someone else’s eyes?
When are we going to stop the hating?
When are we going to start making a difference and making the world a better place?
Every single day, when I wake up in the morning, I think about how I can work to make a difference in the world that surrounds me on the daily.
And every single day, when I read or hear about a story of violence, racism, hatred, or whatever type of darkness it might be, I become even more infuriated.
But I also become even more passionate about making a difference in the world.
As I continue to live out my 33rd year of life on this Earth, I truly believe with even more of a strong conviction that God put me on this planet to make positive change while working to inspire others to do the same.
I am Mr. Sunshine. Hear me ROAR.
I don’t have the latest and greatest “stuff.”
I don’t live in the biggest house.
I don’t drive the fanciest car.
I don’t have a lot of money in the accounts.
I don’t find joy in spending money on all the “stuff.”
You can say that I’m someone who finds MORE with LESS.
I work hard each day with what I have to make positive change for others in this world that are struggling no matter what their story.
I work hard to try and inspire others to do the same through an energy that many of you have come to know as Mr. Sunshine.
How are you working to make positive change in this world?
How are you working to keep trails of undivided footprints for others to follow?
Are these questions that you have ever taken a few moments of your life to try and answer?
We all have the ability to make positive change in the world to lift others up.
Our world needs our light.
Our world world needs our kindness.
Our world needs our love.
Our world needs us all to make undivided footprints against hate, violence, racism, or whatever other type of darkness tries to engulf our lives and diminish the fire of passion that we have inside our souls.
While I’m not 100% sure what Mother Nature was doing in other parts of the United States, she was definitely giving us a dose of some beautiful sunshine that was a GLORIOUS break from the brisk, bitter Winter winds and snow that we have been knocking on our doorsteps the past couple of weeks.
This past Saturday marked the year anniversary of working from home for both my full time and part time jobs. It is insanely crazy to think that we have been doing it for 365 days.
And while 2020 was a year that included intense struggles and anxieties for many people regardless of where they were at in life (myself included), it was also a year that allowed me to take time for some very vital self-reflection.
And with that self-reflection, I was able to identify that I do not truly feel fulfilled in my life unless I am doing something to help others.
Combine helping others along with my passion for both running and pediatric cancer and that is how the 2021 Mr. Sunshine Miles 4 Smiles endeavor was born.
Running the equivalent of 50 full marathons (1,310 miles), raising $20,000 for The Conner M. Holland Foundation, and sending 2,000 cards to local pediatric cancer patients all across the world isn’t that big of an undertaking, right?
Why yes, I do in fact give you permission to call me crazy.
But this year’s project is so much more than running 1,310 miles, raising $20,000, and sending out 2,000 cards.
It is so much more than just lacing up the sneaks everyday.
“Your child has cancer.”
They are words that no parent or family should ever have to hear in their life, but they are ones that will be heard in the lives of approximately 175,000 children under the age of 14 who are diagnosed every year.
They are words that will cause any family to fall apart at the seams as struggle to figure out how to cope with a world that has just been turned upside down for them.
These are words that Kevin and Sheryl Holland heard about their son Conner that brought havoc, pain, and suffering into their lives.
When I first met the Holland family through the facet of our church pairing up with their organization, I felt an immediate connection. I can’t really explain the energy I felt, but it would be something along the lines of a divine intervention. I was in the final months of my 1K for 10K journey with raising funds for pediatric cancer research, so it felt like our paths were meant to cross. I got a chance to sit down with the entire family, but also Conner’s mom, Sheryl for some one-on-one time to learn more about Conner, his story, and also the family’s struggle throughout his diagnosis and how they work to keep his spirit alive.
Right around Christmas break in 2009, Sheryl and Kevin started to notice random bruises on Conner’s body along with what looked like random bug bites on his chest. In addition, they kept continuing to notice how tired he was. They made an appointment to see the doctor and were ordered to get bloodwork. And in the matter of just a few weeks, he was confirmed to have Leukemia. The dreaded words of “your child has cancer” was becoming a harsh reality.
They endured turmoil and multiple treatments at Hershey Medical and CHOP. They even had renewed hope when it seemed the chemotherapy treatments were working! However, after contracting a cold and virus that had to be treated, it eventually forced the chemotherapy treatments to no longer be effective and Conner lost his battle on September 4, 2011.
“Your child has cancer.”
While they are not words that I have experienced personally in my life or the life of my family members, they are words that I think about every day when I set out to pound pavement and clock miles.
They are words that I hope will one day be erased from the vocabulary of communicative language that we use with each other.
They are words that will continue to push me forward during my moments of exhaustion and wanting to give up when the wind blows in my face and my legs feel like jello.
They are words that I say over and over to myself as I tie the laces on my sneakers prior to setting out for every run I clock on this journey.
They are words that I say to myself in the middle of my run as I look down at the bracelet I wear around my wrist that says, “Conner. Little man, big fighter.”
They are words that I say after my run as I untie the laces on my sneakers to keep me grounded in why I run and will continue to run.
I run for those who can’t.
I run for those who are currently fighting for their lives.
I run for those who have lost their lives in the battle.
I run for those who just had the words “your child had cancer” become a reality.
I run for the families who are struggling to find hope.
I run for Conner. Little man, big fighter.
I don’t think anyone would disagree with me when I say that 2020 was a pretty crappy year.
Well, to be completely honest, it was a pretty shitty year in several respects…and it was full of darkness.
Darkness that has attempted to engulf us in our community and our world.
This year’s Miles 4 Smiles campaign is about ALL OF US joining together in the mission to inspire and to spread love and light in this world.
In just this past week alone, I have been able to witness that love and light through the generosity of so many individuals. That generosity was to the tune of over $1,800 in donations…in just 7 days.
And officially surpassing the 1/4 mark of the overall goal.
Needless to say that I was overcome with emotion and tears in my eyes like a little baby multiple times .
I would be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t nervous about having such ambitious goals and launching this project right after such a roller coaster year.
Not only does this year’s endeavor raise the mileage goal from 2019 1K for 10K project by 310, but it also doubles the amount of funds I want to raise by 12/31/21. It also adds the element of mailing 2,000 cards to pediatric cancer patients.
Once again, I give you permission to call me crazy.
Miles 4 Smiles is a group effort between all walks of life to give back and keep hope, love, and kindness alive in a world that so desperately needs it.
It is about helping these families navigate and cope with the words “Your child has cancer” that has turned to life upside down.
It is about keeping Conner’s spirit alive with every single mile.
It is about showing the darkness that hangs around us that we can in fact fight back with light.
It is about looking inside ourselves and realizing that we each have the power to change the world.
We will, we have, and WE ARE changing the world one mile and smile at a time.
2020 was a shitty year.
But I’ll be damned if I let 2021 get the best of me.
It seems like Mother Nature teased us this week with a little bit of her Spring-like weather with some sunshine and 60 degree temperatures.
Wasn’t it absolutely glorious?!
I hope that you were able to get out and enjoy some of the fresh air and sunshine. It is so good for the soul, especially now.
Anyhoo, I apologize if I threw you off last week with no post. It just seemed counter-productive for me to write something since it was the start of Month 3 with my Miles 4 Smiles campaign.
Which…side note…as of right now as I’m writing this–which happens to be 9:23pm on March 2nd–is at $3,281 raised and 225.1 miles clocked!
That is cray, cray, craziness!
Well, let’s get down to business with this week’s post.
Do you have your favorite beverage beside you? Your fuzzy friend? Your cozy blanket?
Great, because here we go!
It’s hard to believe that we are coming up on a year of living in this pandemic.
I still remember the first day when we were told that we would be working from home for two weeks.
And, shortly after that, that weeks turned to another two weeks, and then a month, another month…and so on and so on. You get the drift.
And here we are…almost at the year mark and both my full time and part time jobs have turned into full remote work.
That means I work for approximately 55 hours within the same 4 walls for six days (sometimes seven) days a week!
Boy, do I miss the office setting.
I’m not going to lie, there are sometimes where I decide to change up my scenery and choose to work from a friends’ house, my parents’ house, or even my church just to get a little different change of pace to stay sane.
So, what am I trying to say? Where am I going with this?
Stay with me.
I don’t know about you, but there are times when I look at the state of the world and become really sad.
It just seems like everyone is so divided on every single subject no matter what it might be.
Some days, as I live out my life, I get an energy from certain people that seem to have no concept of what is happening in the world around us, but yet still continue to try and make things difficult for others.
And while we are told to not take things personally and to just take deep breaths, sometimes, that just doesn’t work or seem like enough.
There are days that I have experienced recently where all I’ve wanted to do is scream at the top of my lungs and throw the container of pens and pencils on my desk across the room.
There are days where I have just wanted to give up, shut down the computer, and lock myself in my room much like the Evil Stepmother does to Cinderella.
Did you like that Disney reference?
Thought I would slide that in to lighten the mood a bit.
Anyone else have feelings like I just described?
Anyhoo, I’ve been reading a book the past couple of weeks by Bob Goff called Everybody Always: Becoming Love in a World Full of Setbacks and Difficult People.
It has been a very easy read that I have thoroughly enjoyed spending time with in the evening before bed.
The most recent chapter I just finished was called “The Bucket” and it provided some simple, but meaningful perspective for me that came at a good time as I was feeling the moments of screaming, exhaustion, and shutting down.
In the chapter, Goff shares this simple lesson:
We will become in our lives what we put in our buckets.
So, I started to think back to my moments where I felt like screaming and giving up.
And I paused.
And I thought.
What do I need to put in my bucket?
Capitol One draws us in with their advertisements that we see on the tube and hear on the radio by asking the million dollar question of, “What’s in your wallet?”
Well, today I ask you the million dollar question of…
“What’s in your bucket?”
I’ve thought a lot about this question over the past couple of days…
…And I mean a lot.
It has flooded my mind during shower time, run time, sleepy time…basically all times.
But I landed on these three things I decided I must be placing in my bucket:
When I get saddened by things I see in the world and the darkness that seems to flood our lives on the daily, I must remember to fill my bucket up with kindness. Kindness that must be displayed and shown to everyone in the world regardless of where they are at in life, what their struggles are, ethnic background, social status, skin color, sexual orientation, etc.
When I get bogged down by the constant pictures I see of couples, engagements, weddings, etc, I must remember to fill my bucket up with love. Love for myself in the beauty of who I am and what I stand for and love for everyone around me in the world regardless of where they are at in life, what their struggles are, ethnic background, social status, skin color, sexual orientation, etc.
When I get bogged down by the need of wanting instant gratification because of being a millennial and the want to have answers now and not later, I must remember to fill my bucket up with patience. Patience that there is a time and place for everyone in our life and that everything happens for a reason. Patience that it will all be okay in the end and that we can’t control everything.
Capitol One has gotten us day after day, month after month, and year after to answer the question of, “What’s in your wallet?”
It has certainly been a crazy week with Mother Nature’s wrath and the heartbreaking stories that have been coming out of Texas. It’s been hard to not feel a heavy heart with some of the visuals that I’ve seen.
Yesterday, I got to experience my first time at Gracie’s on West Main in Leola with my friends Marissa and Ellen. And, if you have not been there…you MUST go. The food was delicious and the atmosphere was delightful. There are chalkboard walls with colorful quotes to inspire, motivate, and keep you feeling cozy and quaint as you enjoy some delicious, made-from-scratch tasty treats.
And while Marissa, Ellen, and I were enjoying our time together, we began talking about boys, relationships, and just life in general.
And the wheels started turning in my head when Ellen said the phrase “find your passion, not your partner.”
Light bulb moment.
That’s right…blog post gold.
And it was perfect timing with talking about passion since this past weekend was THON at Penn State and even in a global pandemic, they raised over 10.6 million dollars, which is insanely awesome, amazing, and awe-inspiring!
And when I started to think about my passion, I immediately transitioned back into my time at Penn State and involvement with THON and The Hope Express over the years.
Since 2014, through the efforts of multiple running fundraising projects and support from people like you, we have raised a total of $32,615.32 for pediatric cancer research over the years.
And to give you an idea about a part of my passion, here are some reflections from my very first time running The Hope Express back in 2015.
So, buckle up and take a stroll down memory lane with me for the next couple of minutes.
Back on September 19, 2014 when a friend of mine named Kaitlin Boland posted a comment on my Facebook wall about considering running The Hope Express. I remember thinking that it was the craziest idea that I had ever heard of in my 27 years of existence. But, it got me thinking. And that night I went home and the wheels in my head began to turn as I thought about the idea more and more. And the more I thought, the more I realized that this would be one heck of an awesome way to involve myself in the great student-run philanthropy in the world that had become so close to my heart during my four years of involvement at Penn State. So, two days later, on September 21, I submitted my initial application.
I remember for the next week I was constantly checking my email more than five times a day to see about whether or not I was considered to be a “Hopeful.” The day I got the email telling me I was an official “Hopeful,” I remember having an excited burst of energy, but also that slight nervousness of “What the heck did I get myself into?” The next months were a complete whirlwind—having the initial fundraising conference call with Carolyn learning about the ins and outs of raising funds, planning fundraisers and working on an execution plan, writing letters and emails to potential donors, setting goals for myself, and scheduling the highly anticipated phone interview with Autumn.
The night of my interview is still as clear as day in my head. I remember my palms being incredibly sweaty and when Autumn answered the phone her first question was something along the lines of “What would you do if I said I was the meanest person in the world?” I was a bit taken aback by the question, but remember answering withsomething like “I wouldn’t believe it.” Autumn made me feel very at home and I had no problem having conversation with her and sharing my true passions and feelings about the questions that she asked—and she made me think—very hard and deep down into my heart’s truest emotions and feelings.
The next week or two were filled with the final push for people to get their donations in for the initial fundraising period. (And I must admit that Carolyn was not kidding when she said that you get incredibly happy every time you receive a donation. I for one was always doing a little dance in my room every time I got an email from Carolyn about online donations or check in the mail!) I remember waking up Thanksgiving morning and being so anxious to either receive the call or email about whether or not I had been selected to be a part of the 2015 Hope Express. I kept loading my email on my IPhone as I watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and frowning each timewhen it told me there wasn’t a new message.
And then, it was there! I took a deep breath and I remember reading through Hank’s email thinking that it was worded telling me I was not chosen and my heart sank, but he was a trickster! Toward the end paragraph he wrote that the list of runners was attached. I took a deep breath and opened the attachment…and I cried. My mom was right there with me and I gave her the biggest hug in the world out of complete joy that I was being given the honor to be a part of something so incredible. The next week was full of runs around my town in beautiful weather and just enjoying the scenery around me and taking every moment in. I remember receiving another email from Hank a week later on December 2 that told us who had been chosen to be a “Mountain Runner” and I saw my name listed. Hank told us in the email that there was no greater honor than being selected for a mountain, so I again I had feelings of super excitement, but also the “What the heck did I get myself into?!” thoughts as well. I remember picking out some hills in my head that I thought would be good training spots for me to practice.
I ran my first hill on Christmas morning—and it was a killer. I remember gasping for breath and my legs feeling like jello by the time I got to the top. The words of “I can’t do this” kept bouncing around in my head, but then I would think about who I was doing it for and the immediate jello feeling in my legs disappeared and my motivation and energy suddenly powered back into my system. It was an incredible feeling.
Leading up to runner’s weekend, I remember going on Facebook and seeing all the “runfies” that my fellow teammates were taking on their training runs and I would just smile. I remember getting more and more excited with each inspiration email that came from Hank. I remember going through all the emotions possible every time I read each heart-felt story.
On January 12, 2015, I received word that a very good friend of mine who I had done shows with at a local theatre had lost her battle with cancer. Her name was Wendy and she always was full of life and always had a smile on her face no matter how crappy she felt. It was my first day at a new job and I remember not being able to cry because I didn’t want to be perceived as a wimp who couldn’t handle the job. And as soon as I clocked out and got in the car, I cried. In fact, I bawled. I got home and walked into my roommate and hugged her for 5 minutes without moving or speaking and just cried. I went to my room and cried for the next hour and a half. I was so mad. I was mad at cancer. I was mad at life being unfair. I was mad that God couldn’t have done something to me. I struggled a lot the next few days and found it very hard to not cry uncontrollably at any given moment. The death of Wendy helped me realize and get even more motivation for doing The Hope Express. It helped me put a lot into perspective about my life and what I take for granted and realize that cancer doesn’t discriminate and that it doesn’t care about who it attacks.
Runner’s Weekend was an awesome experience and I loved every second of getting to know the teammates that I would be sharing this incredible journey with and hearing about their stories. The next four weeks leading up to the actual run were filled with many emotional runs full of tears and anger. There were mornings where I didn’t want to get out of bed because it was so cold, but in the back of my head I kept remembering why I was doing it. And I kept seeing Wendy’ face.
The week of the run, I remember becoming incredibly nervous and getting butterflies in my stomach. But the minute I would remember about who I was doing this run for, the butterflies would go away—I even made a special collage of people that I decided to honor during my run—Lexi, Ellen, Carlene, Sally, Kristin, and Wendy. I can’t tell you how many people asked me the week of the run about how they expected us to run in the weather because they were expecting extremely cold temperatures—historic numbers in fact. And I remember telling every single person that the pain and cold we would experience would be nothing compared to what these kids and families go through with this disease.
The day of the run, I couldn’t wait to see everyone again and I remember jumping around in my seat as I drove to the Angus home. Being reunited with my Team Hope was incredible and the absolute best thing. I couldn’t wait to spend 24 hours with these people. My first leg (which occurred around 12:40am) was brutally cold—the wind chill was around -25 degrees and the snow drifts on the country road I was running were intense, but I crushed it. The constant thought of these kids and the collage of my personal friends and family I was running for kept me going. I remember at one point during the run seeing lights up ahead and thinking “Yes! It’s the RV! I’m almost done!” However, it was a horse trailer parked in a lot, so a false alarm and I remember my heart sank because it felt like three miles had already passed by.
But I kept running…faster and harder. My second leg wasn’t as cold, but still bitter. It was during sunrise and the scenery around me was gorgeous and I remember taking in everything around me and being in awe about what all of us were doing. The passion and commitment we all shared in common was just overwhelming. I remember taking a nap during my second leg because my third leg was the mountain leg (known as Tussey)—the one that Hank kept telling me throughout the training period that I had no idea what I was getting into.
While I was still in the trailing car waiting for Meghan to get the handoff from Ami, I remember Wendy giving me a hug and telling me, “Crush that mountain!” Those words stuck with me in my head until the end. I remember arriving at the Whipple Dam Store where I was to receive the handoff and seeing my parents there—and it was pure joy. I ran out to them and gave them a huge hug! It was the perfect motivation for me before beginning my toughest trek yet. I remember getting the handoff from Meghan Duffy and hugging her three times—she was crying because she was just so emotional that she had completed her last leg.
I started down the mountain with the backpack of letters on me and my photo collage around my neck. It seemed normal. And then I began to hurt. And the pain set in. And the wind was blowing. And it was cold. And I began to feel weak. And I began to cry. And I began to start walking. I remember Ryan and Lynn who were in the trailing car behind me shouting out motivating comments to keep me going, but it was so hard. I would begin running again for a few seconds and then I would walk again. I asked for some water and remember taking sips here and there. I continued on and remember walking and then hearing those shouts of “Keep going, one foot in front of the other!” Cars were coming down on the other side of the road and complete strangers were honking in admiration and encouragement. Moralers were passing by and shouting out the window.
Halfway up the mountain, I saw my parents on the side of the road cheering me on and I began to cry again. It was all becoming real to me. I pushed on. And I remember mumbling “F*** you cancer” under my breath in my ninja mask and began saying the names of the people on my photo collage—Lexi, Sally, Carlene, Wendy, Kristin, and Ellen. It was so painful. I felt like I just needed to give up and let cancer win, but I didn’t. I wasn’t about to let cancer win and take over the HOPE that all of us were trying to spread. I remember seeing Stephanie at the handoff and greeting her with the biggest hug ever and crying. I hugged my mom and dad and cried. And Ryan from the trailing car came out and hugged me. It was all so surreal. The emotions were raw.
To say that the whole experience was the greatest thing that I’ve ever participated in would be an understatement. The Hope Express was the hardest and most rewarding experience of my life. The friendships I’ve made with the people who share such passion and drive for this cause are priceless. The people behind the scenes who make this come together every year are invaluable. I’m proud to say that HOPE lives on in each and every one of us and we will continue to fight until HOPE lives on in every single person of the world.
And…4 years later I started the 1K For 10K challenge, which ended 2019 with 375 runs, 1000 miles, 294 donors, and $18,295.37 for pediatric cancer research.
And…here we are…6 years later where I’m entering the last week of month two in the Miles 4 Smiles campaign where we currently stand at 183.7 miles clocked (7 marathon complete) and $2,718 raised for The Conner M. Holland Foundation. And we are just getting started.
So, yeah. I would say I’m finding my passion…
…And not my partner.
And I would say that passion is helping others, especially in the area of pediatric cancer.
And I would say that the Miles 4 Smiles just might grown into something even bigger for the future because them wheels are turning in the head of Mr. Sunshine.
But that’s another story for another time.
And I hope that one day our paths will cross (if they haven’t already) whether it be virtually on in person to try and inspire you in finding your passion.
The year is 2021.
It’s time to find your passion and not your partner.
It’s time to stop falling trap to the Cinderella story of looking for your Prince Charming. If you focus on finding your passion, the partner portion of life if it’s meant to be will just fall into place.