A Little Info About Some Upcoming Changes in My Life

Hi Friends!

As you know, know one can do life alone. And in our current time and culture, it is getting harder and harder to create alone as well. For the last three years, I have been working endlessly to write hopeful books, create meaningful blogs, mentor and coach LGBTQ people, and create inspiring events that encourage people in their coming out and/or faith journey.

It’s been an amazing three years, but most people don’t know that for these past three years, I’ve been doing most of my work for free. My wife has been incredibly supportive through all this and has graciously been the primary breadwinner so that I could pursue my passion. But with changes now happening in our income this fall, I’ve reached a point where in order to continue to do this work, I need the support of those of you around me who enjoy, benefit from, and appreciate what I do.

So I’ve joined Patreon! And I’m asking YOU to join it with me!

For the month of September, I am running a campaign and asking each one of you to consider partnering with me for just $1, $5, or $10 a month. 

First, none of us are going to miss $1 a month, and most of us drop $5-$10 on one cup of coffee or lunch at Chipotle on any given day or week. You may not think your $1/month makes any difference. But it does. Because your dollar combined with the dollar of each of the hundreds of other people reading this blog can instantly create a massive difference in helping me move forward and continue in ministry.

And there’s an added incentive!

For each of you who join the campaign and pledge at least $1/month during the month of September, I will give you the added bonus of behind the scenes access to my very personal return back to music after a decade sabbatical. You’ll get the chance to follow along on a private page and hear from me about the internal workings of my heart as I process what it means to reclaim music in my life after feeling like it was stolen from me when I discovered my sexual orientation. You’ll get to see the process unfold via posts and videos as I begin to play, sing, and write music again. PLUS, you’ll get your name listed on my website as one of the ORIGINAL Difference Makers who believed in this work from the very beginning. Only those who partner with me before October 1st will get these added benefits and behind the scenes access!

We all need a way to keep our lights on and our heat running. Your partnership with me will help do that while allowing me to continue creating encouraging content for LGBTQ people of faith. In reality, your support can help save the lives of LGBTQ people of faith right alongside me–people who are looking for hope and a way out of their isolation. Will you join me? I’d be so honored!

So head on over to Patreon to pledge your $1 now!

Then, if you have a double dose of love, SHARE the link with your friends and give me a shout out on social media. You can tag me @AmberNCantorna across all platforms. Seriously, I’d be SO thankful!

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

5 Ways to Hug Your Anxiety Today

I recently went through the most intense bout of anxiety that I have experienced in years. It grabbed hold of my very being and altered my reality in such a way, that I could only see life through a lens of fear. I was not okay. And even though I knew what had triggered it, I couldn’t seem to make it stop or go away.

It lasted for weeks and there were days where I found myself curled up in a ball in the middle of the day trying to simply slow my heart rate and even my breathing out. In the midst of this unwelcome visitor, there are a few things that I learned during this most recent encounter with anxiety.

  1. Acknowledge It

    One day when I was sitting at a stoplight, I spoke directly to my anxiety. Saying something along the lines of, “I see you. I hear you. I know you’re not okay right now. But take one day at a time, and just breathe. Things will even out and eventually, return back to normal.” It was surprisingly comforting to acknowledge and speak directly to the very feeling that was causing me such distress. Recognizing and naming how you feel, and then speaking to it with compassion was a technique I hadn’t tried in the past, but that I found particularly comforting.

  2. Share About Your Anxiety With Someone

    Sharing how you feel with someone (as long as it’s the right someone) can help immensely at getting you outside the small bubble that your anxiety tries to force you to live inside. One day I emailed a friend and simply said, “I’m not okay right now.” It was freeing to let someone else into my fear and my pain. Letting them in can help deflate your anxiety bubble and give you some perspective into why you are feeling the way that you do, and if your fears are valid.

  3. Hug Your Anxiety with Kindness

    It may seem like common sense, but when we are anxious, simple things like drinking water, eating healthy, and getting enough sleep can go right out the window. I remember having to intentionally think and ask myself, “Have I drank enough water today?” The answer was usually “No.” Maybe you need a nap, or some greens and protein. Simple necessities like a walk or a cold glass of water can make a big difference.

  4. Meditate

    For some people, meditation helps. For others, it’s yoga or an early morning run. I even found a phone app called Calm that gives you short meditation breaks to calm your anxiety in the middle of the day. Giving yourself and your anxiety some time each day to breathe and recenter will help ground you in what is real and tangible right now.

  5. Get outside of your routine

    The key to me breaking out of my anxiety this time around was getting outside of my routine and everyday environment. I had a trip that had been long-planned and was smack dab right in the middle of this bout of anxiety. For me, a change of scenery made all the difference. If you can, get away from your everyday environment for a day or two, switch up your routine, or try a new hobby. Changing things up a bit may be exactly what your soul needs to release the fear it is holding and find a new place of calm.

Whatever it takes for you to hug your anxiety, do that thing. And remember, be kind to yourself. Don’t just extend grace to others. Extend it to your own heart as well.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Update: BeyondBlog is Now Being Hosted by Patheos!

Hey Friends!

I wanted to send you a brief message and update you to let you know that I am now a regular blogger for Patheos Progressive Christian! This means a couple of exciting things:

  1. I will be blogging more often (now that my second book is off to copy-editing and I’ve recovered from surgery), so yay for more content!
  2. If you’re subscribed to my current blog, you have been automatically transferred to the new database, so you won’t miss any content!
  3. My blog has been renamed from the BeyondBlog to Refocusing My Family you will soon (if you haven’t already) start receiving my blog with that title via Patheos each time I post. So be watching in your inbox for emails from Patheos – Refocusing My Family!

If you missed my most recent blog, you can click on the link here to read about “What Amy Grant at Wild Goose Taught me about Jesus.” 

You can also use that link to subscribe to my future blogs!

I’d love to hear from you on what kind of content you’d like to see from me in the future, so feel free to reply to this via email, or be watching for my posts on social media.

And as always, be sure and follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter!

Much love to you all,

Amber Cantorna

What Amy Grant at Wild Goose Taught Me About Jesus

A couple weeks ago, I had my first experience at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. Let me tell you friends-it was hot, it was humid, and it was holy.

Photo and all related rights belong to the author.

I didn’t know what to expect and quite frankly, was a little nervous about what I would find. But these three days in the woods of the Appalachian Mountains were much more than I anticipated. Driving through the one stop sign town of Hot Springs, NC you would never know that there were 4,000 people packed into the woods just beyond the road. But we were there. And we were connecting and building meaningful relationships with one another on all topics related to spirituality, arts, and justice.

There were many highlights for me: eating my first Veggie Thing (a delicious veggie-filled crepe-like “thing” with amazing tomato based chutney), enjoying lunch with Brian McLaren and talking about the future of the church, hearing a powerful talk from Jen Hatmaker on the importance of embracing pain, and connecting with friends new and old as we waded in the river, grabbed an ice-cold lemonade, or just sat beneath a tree catching up on life.

But then there was Amy Grant, my friends. And for me, she defined the weekend.

There was lots of buzz leading up to “the Goose” (as people like to call it). People repeatedly asked me, “Is Amy Grant affirming?” and I had to admit that I honestly didn’t know. I couldn’t imagine her coming (or Wild Goose inviting her) if she was not…and yet, my heart still wondered.

Amy Grant was a staple in my household growing up. My mom was would turn on her “Heart in Motion” album when we cleaned the house, and every time a Colorado snow would fall, I’d wake up to “Tennessee Christmas” playing on the stereo.

I admit I haven’t stayed much up to date with Amy Grant in recent years. Subconsciously, I’m sure something mentally ties those memories to my “pre-coming out life.” So being unsure of Amy Grant’s current theological and political stances, I went to Wild Goose cautiously optimistic of what she would bring.

But when Grant took the stage for her concert that night and lit up the audience with songs like “It Takes a Little Time” and “Baby, Baby” it was more than just nostalgic. Something transformative happened as we heard and saw her sing those songs from the ages on the Wild Goose stage with a Pride banner hanging in the background. Battling the humid heat alongside us and inhaling bugs  that flocked to the stage lights as she sang, I believe something healing was taking place for many of us that night.

My biggest regret of that evening was not staying around for beer and hymns following the concert. Gathering under a tent beneath the stars, Grant joined the “Goose Goers” in song. In those midnight hours one of the most holy moments of the weekend took place as Grant, along with others, sang “El Shaddai.” Watching it through the videorecordings of my friends, the spirit of God was obvious. The Divine entered in, redeeming and healing the hurt and pain of so many that had been cast aside from other circles in the name of religion. Love and acceptance abounded.

Photo and all related rights belong to the author.

The closest thing Grant made to an affirming statement that weekend was the following morning when she said that her family was filled with diversity, including different sexual orientations. Beyond that, no official statement was made.

At first, I was rather disappointed. I wanted a clear answer, something that made it obvious as to where she stood. But as the morning went on through worship and the receiving of the Eucharist, I came to realize that I didn’t need one after all. Her spirit, her presence, and her love spoke volumes about how she felt about every person present, and the love God had for them unconditionally.

I’m not saying that words don’t matter or that vocal alliance isn’t important, because it absolutely is. There was nothing more powerful than Jen Hatmaker publicly apologizing to the LGBTQ community for her silence and saying that, even after all the hell she’s faced since her public announcement, her only regret is that she wishes she would have become an ally earlier in her life. It was powerful.

But there was something about Amy Grant that was timeless. It was almost as if no theological transformation was needed…like she had always lived, and loved as if all people mattered deeply. It was a beautiful thing to witness in a time and culture that is currently so divided.

One of the most healing moments for me came when Amy Grant served me communion. After meeting both my wife and I earlier in the morning, when it came my turn to receive the elements, Grant locked eyes with me, and the only words she spoke were, “You are loved.” And that sealed it. I no longer needed verbal validation of her acceptance of the LGBTQ community. It was just obvious…in her presence at the festival, in her willingness to tough it out in the woods with a bunch of sweaty, smelly people, in her desire to not just show up and give a concert, but to stay and interact and participate in the festival alongside us…in her showing up to beer and hymns, in her serving communion, in her smile and her eyes. She displayed such humility. It brought healing for so many, and it was truly holy.

I saw so much of Jesus in Amy Grant that weekend. It has continued to sit and stay with my soul. It is a memory I will continue to cherish and reflect on because it was so validating for me as an LGBTQ Christian.

So thank you Amy Grant. Thank you for coming and walking among us, for loving us and embracing all of us…just as Jesus would.

Speaking Requests and Book Two Details!

Hey Friends!

I hope you are enjoying your Pride month and finding ways to celebrate what makes you uniquely YOU! Two quick things I’m excited about and want to share with you:

  1. I AM CURRENTLY BOOKING SPEAKING EVENTS THROUGH DEC 2018.
    If you attend or pastor a church that is looking for guest speakers, or if you have an upcoming event, I am currently booking speaking engagements through the end of the year. (I may even book into spring of next year if you have a burning passion to do so!) I do encourage you to book as early as possible as my schedule is quickly filling up. So don’t wait! If you’re interested, reach out to me at: Beyond.AmberCantorna@gmail.com for more information. I’d love to chat with you about it!
  2. BOOK TWO OFFICIALLY HAS A NAME!
    For those of you are anxiously awaiting details about my second book, here it is! Unashamed: Coming Out as an LGBTQ Christian will release from Westminster John Knox Press in Spring 2019. It is the book you have all been asking for and will be a practical guide full of tools and tips for those of you wrestling to figure out how to come out of conservative faith families and navigate these unexpected waters. I’m so excited to share it with you and can’t wait to tell you more as we move forward. Stay tuned!As always, but especially during this month of Pride, I encourage you to love those around you, and love yourself. Embrace the beauty that makes you unique and live Unashamed!

    Because Love Makes All the Difference,

    Amber Cantorna

 

Why My Heart Aches on Father’s Day

“I’m so proud of you Amber,” my dad frequently told me growing up. He said it more times than I could count. It didn’t matter whether it was a new piece on the piano I had accomplished, a story I’d written, or a good grade I got on a test, my dad was good at telling me that he loved me, and that he was proud that I was his girl.

As his only daughter, my dad and I were close. I was the apple of his eye and we shared a special bond that can only be formed between a father and his little girl. From butterfly kisses, to Saturday morning cuddles, to special “father/daughter” dates, I never doubted that I was loved.

Although our connection shifted a bit as I entered my teen years, we still made an effort to get together for coffee, or watch a late-night action film; things we not only enjoyed but that kept us bonded and close.

But all that changed 6 years ago when I came out. Once I shared with my dad that I was gay, I never heard those words “I’m proud of you” from him again.

For 6 years now the tape of his voice that I’ve heard in my head (even in his years of silence) is “I’m embarrassed by you,” rather than “I’m proud of you.”

The first two years after coming out were full of turmoil and hurtful words from my dad. The last four have been dead air as we’ve been completely estranged.

The monumental moments that my dad has missed over these last 6 years can never be replaced: falling in love, getting married, buying my first home, publishing my first book, founding a non-profit organization to help the marginalized. The happiest and most fulfilling years of my life have also held the deep and painful reminder of the absence of someone I loved and held so dear: my father. It breaks my heart to know we can never get those years and moments back. And it breaks even more knowing that going forward (unless something changes), he will continue to miss even more of them.

I’m happier now than I’ve ever been in my life. Oh, how I wish my dad could see that and celebrate it with me. I no longer feel burdened and weighed down by something deep in my spirit that holds me captive. I feel free and light. I wish my dad could understand and share in that joy. I wish that he could recognize the family my wife and I are creating together and that we could all sit around enjoying meals, conversation, and laughter like we used to. I wish we could share holidays with one another and that I could enjoy this Father Day’s with him over brunch and mimosas.

I wish he was still proud of me.

But 6 years ago “Come by again soon, Amber. I miss you!” was replaced with, “The door is always open IF you ever change.”

And it’s now been 6 years since I heard “I love you” from my dad and felt like he really meant it.

It’s a bit ironic that for those of us who live in Denver, Gay PrideFest always falls on Father’s Day weekend. It’s a solemn reminder of how much I wish my own father could still love me and be proud of me for all that I am and for all parts of me that make up my identity. Everyone longs to be accepted and celebrated for who they are.

So if you are feeling the lack of acceptance from a father this Father’s Day, know that I share your pain. If you’re estranged from your father because of who you love, know that I share in your sorrow. And if you are a father to anyone today, I urge you:

Accept your child. Embrace them for all the beautiful things that make them unique. Hold them tight, cherish your time together, celebrate them, and tell them you are proud of them every chance you get.

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

How “She is Called” Awakened the Poet Within Me

My Dear Friends,

This last weekend, I had the rare and incredible opportunity to gather with a group of 50 women from across America for a unique conference experience titled “She is Called.” Together we had discussions around the topics of sex and power, intersectionality and equity, and prevention and repair. We made art, we did yoga, we encouraged one another, we laughed together, we cried together, and we bonded in a way that only women can. It was magical.

I admit I was highly hesitant to walk into a space of all Christian women given my previous experience with evangelical women’s retreats in the past. The last thing I wanted to do was sit around in dresses, drink tea, and talk about purity and submission. But this was far, far from that. It was rich with conversation, deep with emotion, and all about empowering one another to fulfill our calling in these progressive and inclusive spaces. Not at all like my previous women’s retreat experiences!

These women were small business owners, pastors, artists, leaders of non-profit organizations, marriage podcasters, sex therapists, and just about every other beautiful occupation you can imagine for a woman to make roots in.

For many years prior to coming out, I was an avid journaller and musician. And while I’ve done a lot of writing and blogging since coming out, I’ve struggled to reclaim the artist, songwriter, poet side of me. But being around such powerful women this weekend awakened something inside of me that I’ve been struggling to arouse on my own. And during one of our contemplation periods, a poem of sorts emerged from my soul. It wasn’t even what I had planned to write about, it’s just what came out. At the end of our weekend together, we held an Open Mic. This is what I shared:

 

I am Me

Coming out six years ago, the price of authenticity was high.
Nothing will ever be able to erase the memory of the anger on my dad’s face
As he compared my being gay to murders, pedophiles, and bestiality,
Or the look in my mom’s eyes as she told me she felt like I had died.
Nothing will ever make me forget my dad asking for the keys to his house back
Saying he no longer trusted me to have open access to my only childhood home.

In that moment, I wanted to die
As all that I loved and held dear was being ripped
From the threads of the fabric of my soul.
The gift of authenticity felt like it left me with nothing
But the dusty remains of what once was.

Surviving one awful day at a time,
I grasped for particles of hope
But only continued to lose more
Of the relationships I held dear as time went on.

My parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, and church
All labeling me as abominable,
As if I deserved to share a prison cell with a rapist or a serial killer
Simply for loving a woman instead of a man.

When did love become a crime?
When did feeling alive become something worthy of being damned to hell?
If peace and honesty and vulnerability and transparency
Can’t be something we value and hold space for
Then I am already in hell as it is.

The first twenty-seven years of my life felt like hell
As I wrestled with something that was nameless and unrecognizable
Because of my sheer lack of exposure to diversity of any kind
Yet ate away at my soul day by day,
Causing depression, anxiety, fear, self-hatred, self-injury, and suicidal ideations.

No, coming out did not damn my soul to hell.
It set my soul free!
Free to release myself from perfection,
Free to take off the mask,
Free to let go of the expectations of others,
To release myself from the burden of protecting appearances,
To finally feel ALIVE.

Yes, I came ALIVE the day I came out.
Even in all its heartache,
These past six years have been the best years of my life.
I finally get to be ME.

And as I move forward,
I will continue to embrace vulnerability, authenticity,
Courage, wholeheartedness, and true belonging
In all its gifts and forms
Because that is the essence of life in its fullest capacity.

And I will live!

There is nothing that I am not worthy of.

I am ME.

© Amber Cantorna, 5-18-18

Go boldly into the world my friend. Claim your space. You are brave, bruised, and beautiful. There is nothing you’re not worthy of!

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Mother’s Day Reflections from a Motherless LGBTQ Daughter


I am a motherless LGBTQ daughter. My mother is not deceased, she does not live out of state, and my parents are not divorced. My mother lives only 60 miles from me, yet because of our differing religious beliefs, we are divided. We have not spoken in years.

I never dreamed it would be this way. It certainly didn’t used to be. My mother and I used to talk on the phone at least once every day. Even after I moved out of the house, I never lived more than a mile or two from my parents’ home. We saw each other often. My mom and I went to garage sales together, we watched movies together, we took our dogs to the park together, and we helped each other with projects that needed to be done. We had many years of mother/daughter bonding moments. And as long as I stayed in the closet, wore a smile, and pretended to be who my mom wanted, we enjoyed spending time together.

But one defining moment of authenticity changed all that. Once I came out and told her that I was gay, everything she thought about me changed. In her eyes, I was no longer the daughter she knew, or the daughter she raised, or the daughter she loved.

Her devotion to her religious beliefs convinced my mom that she must choose between her loyalty to God and her loyalty to her daughter. She chose God.

I expect she did this out of fear: fear that if she loves her daughter (like I want to believe her heart longs to), that God will be angry with her for condoning the abominable sin of homosexuality. That embracing me could potentially endanger her own soul and not just mine. Or perhaps it’s the opinion of others that keeps her shackled. How would having a gay daughter reflect on her as a parent? Or worse, what would it say about her own belief system if she supported her gay daughter? And therefore, it seems easier for her to ignore that her daughter exists at all, than to admit to her family and friends that her daughter is gay.

Six Mother’s Days have now passed without my mother. I wish I could say it’s gotten easier, but the pain still lingers.

There’s still a hole in my heart; an ache that represents a painful emptiness not of death, but of rejection; of being unlovable because of whom I love.

My heart aches over the fact that my mother sees me as deceived and selfish, that she’s missed some of the most beautiful and wonderful moments of my life, that she privately mourned her only daughter’s wedding rather than celebrated it with us, and that she is unable to see that I am more happy and more free than I’ve ever been.

She’s missed the last six years of my life: the years that I fell in love, got married, bought my first house, started my own family. They’ve been the best years I’ve ever known, yet the vacant seat of a mother in my heart continues to grieve for what could have been between us.

I still need a mother.

I’m a grown adult, on my second career, married with a wife, house, and two pups, but I still ache for the love of a mother’s arms, the gentle, understanding voice that says everything is going to be okay, the reassurance that comes from confiding in someone who has lived longer, and the ability to glean from their wisdom.

I’m so grateful for each of the Mama Bears that I have met. I want to meet more of you. I long to have a deeper presence of strong, beautiful, brave mothers in my life. Each of you Mama Bears inspire me because you’ve been courageous enough to face your fear of the unknown, and fight fiercely for your child. It’s what I wish my mother would have done for me. I know the road has not been easy. But I respect and admire each of you for the journey you willingly took to learn to love your child fully as God already loves them.

For those mothers of LGBTQ children who have been brave enough to take that journey–thank you. You inspire me and give me hope.

For those mother’s who have an LGBTQ child but are still afraid of what God thinks of them, or of you–I beg of you, reach out and take the hand of another mother who’s been there and can help guide you along. You can do that by contacting Susan Cottrell or Liz Dyer.

imagesAnd to those motherless daughters (and sons) like me–be brave. Hold your head up high. The Mother and Father of your heart loves you and says you are beautiful and precious exactly as you are. Allow yourself to grieve the loss in whatever way you need to this Sunday. Join me in stepping away from social media for the day if you feel that will be helpful for you. Let’s aim to fill our hearts with love, acceptance, and joy this week knowing we are celebrated by those who embrace us for who we are, and let’s start a legacy of acceptance for all who follow after us.

Because Love Makes all the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Note: While I will not be on social media this Sunday, I will accept all messages, texts, and phone calls from any Mama Bear that wants to exchange love this Mother’s Day. 🙂

Speaking Persuasively of LGBT+ Inclusion

Hey Friends,

This week I have the exciting privilege of featuring another guest blog by my friend, Alicia Johnston. Alicia was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. Here are some tips from her about how to engage in the important dialogue of LGBT+ inclusion.

Enjoy and share around!

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna


When I came out about a year ago, I did it in the most explosive way possible, with a video I shared on social media. I followed that up with my website, blogging about LGBT+ affirmation in Christian spaces. Before coming out, I was a pastor in a conservative denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Losing that career and becoming an advocate for change has meant a lot of conversations with people who do not affirm any but heterosexual relationships. I have made so many mistakes. If you’ve been following me, you will probably have seen some of them. And I have learned so much. I would like to share some of those things with you today.

In sharing these lessons learned, I make no apologies about one thing: I am trying to be persuasive. I want people to change their minds and be affirming. I think this is a holy pursuit.

1. Are You Okay to Have This Conversation?

This will always be the first step. You are under no obligation to engage in any conversation no matter what the circumstances. This is even more true is someone is pressuring you. Hold your ground.

It is very difficult for those of us who are LGBT+ to have conversations with people about the legitimacy of our lives. It’s emotionally taxing, and for many of us it brings up past wounds. How healed are you from those wounds? How are you feeling today? How do you feel about this person? Is this the right conversation for you?

You cannot count on your conversation partner to understand what it’s like for you, especially online. In my experience, most of the straight/cis people who understand are already allies.

Christians are told repeatedly that they can love people even if their theology is different on this matter. In real life, that translate into a sense that they can say what they believe without expecting it to hurt you, as long as they aren’t too harsh. Sometimes even if they are harsh. I’ve seen it again and again. In most cases, I really do think they don’t know what they are doing.

So you can’t rely on them to protect your feelings. You have to know if you’re ready. Keep in mind, if you are LGBT+, the best thing you can do to change the world is be a healthy, happy, and unashamed person. Live well. Live out. Be open about your faith. Guard your own health and happiness.

2. Is This Person Already Convinced?

You must know who you are talking to and why. Most people can are in one of three camps. They are either totally on board with LGBT+ inclusion, totally against it, or in the moveable middle.

Those who are totally certain will not change their viewpoint.

You can kill yourself trying to explain the same thing for the hundredth time and they will still somehow not understand it. They will say things that are stigmatizing or pejorative, and they will never come to acknowledge or change this. You could pour out a heartbreaking story and they would just say feelings don’t matter and we have to do what’s right. You could talk about suicide statistics and mental health and they would feel like you’re manipulating them. They compare your love to pornography and adultery and think it’s compassionate. They won’t read any books. They won’t question what they believe.

You will not convince these people. They will be convinced only when their friends who are in the moveable middle change their opinions, or if someone they love and respect comes out. Even then they often stick to their guns. You can’t do it, especially if you’re LGBT+. Just accept that and be okay with it.

Unfortunately, these people are most vocal online. The people who are open to change usually don’t comment much.

I propose two different strategies for the people who are totally against LGBT+ affirmation:

In person: Don’t give them your time and energy. Suggest they read an LGBT+ affirming book or two, but don’t let them suck you in unless for some reason you’re feeling like a vigorous and unproductive debate about your legitimacy as a person. They won’t read the book unless its to get you to read one of their books. If they were open to change, they would read the book.

Online: Don’t try to convince them of anything. You might want to engage, but only for the sake of those who are reading. Be reasonable. Be kind. Make good points in a way that is brief. Be confident about both your faith and sexuality or gender identity. Remind them of the existence of LGBT+ Christians.

3. Is This Person Open to Learning and Growth?

Thank God, there are people who are open to change. These people are worth talking to.

Most of the people in the moveable middle are kind of like undecided voters. They usually haven’t thought about it enough to form a strong opinion. Though some have thought about it and are conflicted. They will probably not be well informed, but they won’t be purposefully dismissive or pejorative like the other group, at least not on purpose. They will be more responsive to a well-spoken correction if they say something disrespectful.

What works really well for these people is talking about your similarities. LGBT+ people have families, work hard, have children, go to church, etc. I’m going to level with you and tell you that it really bothers me that this is true. We should be respected and cared for whether we are similar to someone else or not. Yet it’s undeniable that the best way to remind people about the humanity of queer people is to show them that we are similar to them. It works very well.

These are people who will care about your story, and you should tell it to them. Much like the undecided voter, what some of them need most is a reason to care. If they have questions about theology, answer them if you can, or give them a source to turn to such as a book, website, or organization.

Sometimes all these people need is to get a few questions answered and they are onboard. If that’s the case, say hallelujah! Many have put in work before you and you got to see the transformation.

4. Show Respect, Expect Respect

The first person to say “you obviously” loses. Seriously. When someone feels attacked they will get defensive. If you’re at the place where someone is attacking you and you feel yourself getting defensive, you probably want to extract yourself from that conversation.

When I first came out, which I did so publicly and jumped right into online advocacy for LGBT+ people, there were a lot of people who were deeply disrespectful. As time went on I got more and more comfortable with the reality that the block button was my friend.

My list of blocked people is probably a lot longer than a lot of people’s friend list.

I’m not exaggerating. My coming out video was spun into a crazy conspiracy theory by a fringe religious extremist group. Their video about me was seen tens of thousands of times. As a result, I had a lot of people looking me up to tell me I was leading people to hell. Some of them come right out and say it. Some of them try really hard to act reasonable to make me feel like I couldn’t block them.

They would say things like, “you don’t want discussion on this group or you wouldn’t delete comments.” Or “I bet you’ll just block me.” At first I let this manipulate me, not wanting to prove them right. Now I just block them.

People will also say things like, “you shouldn’t post things on facebook if you aren’t willing to have a conversation about it.” So I just kindly but firmly tell them that I don’t share things on facebook for debate; I share them to share them. I don’t believe that facebook is a good forum for genuine conversation, so that’s not how I run my page.

It’s totally okay to do this. Those people are trying to hijack your platform to say something to your friends and followers. At the risk of sounding disillusioned, I can tell you that case after case after case has taught me that they are not being genuine. So don’t hesitate to push block.

That’s level one respect, but to be truly impactful in a conversation you need a whole new level. You need to understand them. If you have found someone interested in real dialogue, do spend time trying to understand them. If you are writing persuasively, don’t use straw man arguments and don’t assume people have bad motives.

Most people are doing the best they can. Foster compassion in yourself. If you’re like me, you’ve been on the wrong side of this in the past. Try to be patient, especially with those who genuinely do love you, like family and close friends, while always balancing that patience with caring for yourself. Sometimes you will need more distance from people.

Remember, people are not an obstacle to over come, they have lives, feelings, fears, and hopes. They bring all those things to each conversation. You can’t persuade someone against their will. You can’t force anyone to see things differently. Sometimes being too strong will only cause them to fight back harder.

The hardest thing Jesus commanded was that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This doesn’t mean we can’t step away if we aren’t receiving respect, but it does mean we should foster a heart of grace and understanding.

5. Give Hope and Security

With the incredible efforts of LGBT+ people and allies, the lives of queer people have improved exponentially over the last several decades. Many churches have even gotten much, much better. There are many reasons for hope. So embrace hope.

When you’re talking to others, realize that if they were raised to fear what churches refer to as homosexuality, they are probably afraid for you, afraid for society, and afraid to affirm LGBT+ people for fear of cooperating with the forces of evil. That’s a lot to be afraid about. You can give hope.

Tell them about the great things queer people are doing and how they have wonderful lives, families, and faith communities. Cast a different vision than the vision of fear they have been given. And reassure them that God’s ability to save is not dependent on our ability to be right.

Perfect love casts out all fear, and fear has always been the greatest tool of those who are anti-LGBT+. That’s why it’s called homophobia. So remind them of God’s love for everyone. Remind them that God is not looking for us to mess up, but is leading us patiently and gracefully to greater love.

Alicia Johnston was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. She is now an advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in the church. You can visit her website at aliciajohnston.com

It Just Keeps Getting Better

Tomorrow marks six years since I came out of the closet. In some ways it feels so much longer. So much has happened in the span of those six years–I’ve fallen in love, gotten married to my wife, published a book, and started a non-profit for LGBTQ people of faith. Could it really be only six years ago that I was more scared than I’d ever been in my entire life as I prepared to tell my family following morning?

And yet, it seems like yesterday. I can still see so clearly the stoic look that was on their faces when my parents and younger brother arrived to my house, barely making eye contact as they came in the door. It was as if they knew something was up.

I can still sense the tension in the room that grew with every word I spoke about my journey of reconciling my faith and my sexuality.

I can still hear the deafening silence that hung in the air once the words “I am gay” finally left my mouth. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my life.

And I can still feel the pain that struck my heart with a knife when my dad looked at me with anger in his eyes and said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and walked out the door.

That screen door slamming behind them as my mom and brother followed suit was the sound of rejection. It broke my heart into pieces and I collapsed onto the floor. I so desperately longed for love–for an attempt at understanding. But there was none. Our relationship had never felt so drained of compassion or void of connection in my life.

My family was the family that was always there for one another. Hardly a day went by without talking to my mom on the phone. Living within close proximity made it easy to stop by for a cup of tea or family dinner. My dad started working at Focus on the Family when I was three years old, so our home was steeped in family values, godly parenting, and meaningful tradition for as far back as I can remember. Homeschooled K-12, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and housewife, as my dad went off to do the meaningful work of strengthening families.

I never dreamed that my dad’s position at Focus would tear me away from those I loved the most–but that’s what happened. The news of my sexual orientation tore apart the very fabric that wove us together and none of us were ever the same.

In the following weeks my parents compared me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality. They said I was selfish for doing this to the family and only considering what made me happy. They said they’d rather I turned my back on God completely, than pretend everything between me and God was okay.

And then they asked for the keys to their house back. And my world fell apart even more.

In the months following, we tried to find some common ground, but it never worked. I tried to maintain as consistent as I could to prove that I was still the same daughter they’d always known. I wanted their approval and I desperately needed to know that I still belonged. But as time went on, they pushed me further and further to the fringes–sometimes with their words, and other times with passive aggressive behavior. In time, I knew that I was no longer welcome as part of the family.

In the years that followed, I fell in love, got engaged, and married the love of my life. My wife and I will celebrate four years of marriage this June. We bought our first house, I published Refocusing My Family, and I founded a non-profit called Beyond to help other LGBTQ people of faith navigate their coming out process.

My dad still works at Focus on the Family to this day. And what I discovered was that their love, when tested, came with strings attached. In the end, their need to uphold their reputation and their desire to maintain appearances won out over their love for their own daughter. We haven’t spoken in almost four years. Completely cut off from both immediate and extended family, being authentic came at an extremely high cost.

And yet…it just keeps getting better.

Looking back over the last six years, I now know that coming out was absolutely the best decision I could have ever made. Being true to myself saved my life; it strengthened my faith, it gave me an authentic community where I could thrive, and it launched me into the ministry that I somehow always knew God had waiting for me.

In those days leading up to the most terrifying day of my life, I could only dream of the things I have now. Even though I had to let go of almost everything I’d ever known to gain it, I discovered a level of true and authentic joy I never knew existed. I’ve become more light, more free, and more happy than I ever was during my years of wrestling in the dark.

These past six years have been the best years of my life.

Yes, they have been laced with great sorrow and deep pain–experiences and hurtful words that I will never be able to forget. But the freedom of being who God has made you to be in its fullest form has made me feel more alive than I ever knew was possible.

In years past, my Coming Out Anniversary has been a day of solemn remembrance of what’s been lost and the price I paid for being true to myself. But this year, it is a day I celebrate because six years later (with some time and space in the rear view mirror), I see how valuable the journey has been.

If you are wrestling in the midst of that coming out process and still wondering if all this is ever going to be worth it one day, let me tell you my friends: it just keeps getting better.

Because Love STILL Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

*You can read more about Amber’s journey in her memoir, Refocusing My Family, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. If you are in the process of navigating your own coming out process, you can find resources at Amber’s website and keep an eye out for Amber’s second book coming Spring 2019 which will provide helpful tools to guide you along this journey.