A Few Simple Ways to Love on the LGBTQ People in Your Life This Holiday Season

With December already upon us and the holiday season in full swing, it is a happy and joyous time for many, but unfortunately, not for all. This year, my heart is heavy for several of our close friends facing very difficult and challenging situations this season with health, with relationships, and with loss.

For LGBTQ people in particular, the holidays can be an especially difficult time of year. Many have lost relationships with family or friends as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. And those who have maintained relationship with family members often still experience a relational strain that lingers in their family interactions, making holidays with family just as challenging as for those without family.

For many, myself included, even in the midst of joy and celebration, there’s a deep sense of loss, of sadness, and of grief for that which could be.

Maybe that comes from rejection, or from tension with loved ones, or from ultimatums that say they are welcome at holiday gatherings but their same-sex partner or spouse is not. Each of these situations cause pain, feelings of not really belonging, and emptiness where the celebration should be.

So I’m challenging you this Christmas, if you know or have an LGBTQ person in your sphere of influence, to reach out to them in one of the following ways this year and add some joy to their holiday season:

1. Send them a Christmas card.

Ok, so it doesn’t have to have a rainbow on it. In fact, it’s probably better if it doesn’t! But something as simple as sending a card with a hand written inscription at Christmas time can make your LGBTQ friend feel loved.

For years, I’ve always put the Christmas cards I’ve received on the back of my front door. It was a tradition in my family growing up that I’ve continued on into adulthood. But since coming out, the number of cards I’ve received has fluctuated over the years. Some years, there’s not been many at all. And in those times, it’s often a painful reminder of just how many people I’ve lost due to being authentic about who I am. Still, each time I open the mailbox to see a personalized Christmas card to me, I light up inside like a little kid. And for the LGBTQ person receiving your card, being remembered will undoubtedly make them feel loved too.

2. Invite them to join your family on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.

Yes, it may mean that someone new is in your home at Christmas. And it may be a little different than what you are used to. But just realize that if you don’t invite that LGBTQ person, they may not have anywhere to go. Oh, they may pretend they have plans or pass it off like it is not a big deal, or it’s not as painful as it really is…but deep inside, they’re longing and looking for a family to fit into for the holidays.

For me, when we don’t have a plan for the holidays, my anxiety escalates. The unknown makes me uneasy. Once we have a plan in place, it wanes and I feel more at ease. Some years we’ve been successful at arranging plans and we’ve had a great Christmas. Other years it has been very lonely. We make the best of whatever it is and create new and fun traditions whenever possible, but that doesn’t erase the pain that can accompany the fact that it is just the two of us alone on Christmas day.

3. Call them on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas Day.

Let’s face it, sending a text is nice, but it’s not the same as when someone takes the time to pick  up the phone and call you. Yes, the holidays are a busy time for you and your family, but think of your LGBTQ friend who may not have anyone (or may only have their spouse) to share the holiday with. If they’ve been completely rejected by their family, it is quite possible that nobody calls, nobody comes by with gifts or handmade goodies, and nobody joins them for Christmas dinner. What my wife and I have found is that, even with our friends with whom we are the closest, when it comes to the actual holi-day almost everyone still has somewhere to go. That means that our house is often quite and calm as we celebrate together what the two of us have. A phone call from you could brighten up an otherwise very quiet day.

If you have to, set a reminder or alarm in your phone or calendar. The call doesn’t have to be long, but I promise it will make them smile.

I’ll never forget the time my adopted Nana called me on my wife and I’s 1-year wedding anniversary. It was so very thoughtful for her to remember me and make the time to pick up the phone and call to congratulate us. It reminded me of something my mom would have done if she was around and it made me feel special and like someone cared enough to remember our special day. Small things really do go a long way.

4. Send them a care package.

If you’re making up a stocking or care package to send to one of your kids (or even if you’re not!) put together a little Christmas box of goodies and stocking stuffers and mail it to them. Go to the store and have a little fun picking out some little trinkets for them, or hop on Amazon and have it shipped directly to their house (you could even include a copy of Refocusing My Family!). Amazon makes it super easy and convenient (you don’t even have to get out of your pj’s!) and I promise you’ll make their day.

When I returned from my most recent tour trip, there was an unexpected box at my house. It was from a Mama Bear. She had made me a blanket by hand as part of the Banner Blanket Project (a project started to make and send blankets to LGBTQ kids who have been rejected by their families) and sent it my way. When I opened it, I cried. It was the first thoughtful gift like that I had received in years and I felt so very loved. I wrapped myself up in the blanket that night and felt truly loved by a Mom for the first time in a very, very long time.

Little gifts make a big difference. Thoughtfulness goes a long way.

What can you do to bring a little love to someone you know this holiday season?

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

 

Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday

Hello My Friends!

I am writing you on a brief break from home in between touring and travels. We have had a very exciting series of events over the last couple weeks as we’ve traveled from State College, PA to Washington D.C. to Raleigh, NC and then on to Salt Lake City and Phoenix! It’s been a wild ride but such an exciting time to see how Refocusing My Family is touching hearts and changing lives.

We’ve heard so many encouraging comments as we’ve met people across the country who have read the book. The most common comments we hear are, “I couldn’t put it down!” and “I felt like I was reading my own life!” which are both exactly what we were hoping to hear. We’ve also heard from a therapist that reading this book completely changed the way she approaches counseling with her LGBTQ clients, and from another Christian couple, that this book has completely changed their views on LGBTQ issues! All these things are so very exciting to hear after so many months planning, writing, and working to bring this into fruition.

I was very blessed to be home for Thanksgiving this past week and have a bit of a break after speaking 7 times in 9 days. Whew! We have two more events this week (Boulder, CO and Cheyenne, WY) but will then be taking a break during the holidays and will touring again after the new year. I’m looking forward to some time at home with my family, recovering from all the travel and recharging for this next tour season.

Many of you have been very kind to ask how my health has been through all my travels and I am very grateful to say that my body and its chronic health issues have done quite well, considering all the travel I have done in such a short amount of time. There have been some harder days here and there, but my pain has not spiraled out of control like I feared it might, and for that I am VERY thankful. I will have prolotherapy this coming Friday immediately after finishing my event in Cheyenne, WY on Thursday night and plan to recover through the weekend. But with the amount of travel I have done between my last prolo treatment and this one, I am really quite pleased overall.

Many of you have also asked if Clara has been traveling with me, and for the most part, the answer has been yes! We’ve been able to book a lot of our tour dates around her work schedule so that she has been able to come. She was not able to make it to my Salt Lake City and Phoenix stops this last

weekend, but I had my other little helper, Half Pint with me instead! She got to fly on an airplane for the very first time and did SO very well. We flew on 3 airplane rides in 4 days and she was a star. Not an ounce of nervousness or fear and she sat on mommy’s lap and flew like a champ. The attached picture is of her on her first airplane ride to Salt Lake City.

There is so much more that I want to write to you all about including the meaningful conversations that have and are taking place on the road with the people I meet, the hearts and lives that are being changed and becoming affirming of LGBTQ believers, as well as what God is showing me and teaching me through it all. And I promise I will write you more soon! But at least for the next couple days, I am still trying to catch up, rest up, and make sure these last two events of the year are as powerful and dynamic as possible.

So I will leave you with this for now…tomorrow is Giving Tuesday.

And while I know that there are SO many amazing and very worthy causes out there that you could choose to invest your resources in, I’d like you to consider giving a gift to Beyond.

As I travel and speak and meet people all across the country, I am more convinced than ever that this is a message that needs to be heard. People have driven as far as 4 hours to attend a Refocusing My Family event because they are so desperate to hear a story they can relate to and so desperate to know if God does indeed still love them. 

So many LGBTQ people are still wrestling in the closet of conservative faith communities, afraid to come out because of what it might cost them. Oh how I long for the day when that is no longer the case, and stories like mine no longer need to be told. But we are not there yet.

So I’m asking you to consider partnering with us so that we can continue sharing this message of hope and love to LGBTQ people of faith and their loved ones. The holidays can be hard for many people, but for LGBTQ Christians who haven’t yet been able to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, the isolation and divisiveness they often feel can completely overwhelm them. There are LGBTQ people who, right now, are considering taking their own lives, because the holiday season seems like more than they can bear. Your gift, your financial contribution, could bring them hope and help save their life this Christmas.

So whatever you can do, whether that is a little or whether that is a lot, please visit our website and make a donation today. Each and every little bit makes a difference in the life of someone who is desperate for hope that it will get better, who’s desperate for peace to be able to be who they are, and who’s desperate to know deep in their soul just how wide and long and high and deep the love of God really is. And isn’t that exactly what Christmas is all about?

Remember…your love could make all the difference.

Let’s be difference makers.

 

With all my love,

Amber Cantorna

 

 

 

We’ve just added Washington DC to our tour schedule!

Hey Friends,

We are excited to announce that we have just added Washington DC to our tour schedule for next weekend! Because it is coming up so quickly, we would really appreciate your help in spreading the word. Sharing about it on social media as well as telling your friends/family in the DC area are both so appreciated. Together we can help spread the message that LOVE makes all the difference!

You can use the graphic below to share with your friends, or you can help by sharing the Facebook Event of it HERE.

Also, there’s a couple new radio interviews and podcasts that have released this past week that you can listen to by visiting the “Interviews” tab of my website.

Finally, we are so excited about the stories we are hearing from people all over the world that are reading Refocusing My Family. Many are finding hope for the very first time. Thank you for what each of you are doing to help spread the word through sharing the book with others, writing Amazon reviews, and sending words of encouragement my way. I do read every one of them and am so grateful for all of you who are helping in different ways.

We are getting requests from people to add additional tour locations in places like Houston, along the east coast, and even Canada. There are still so many people who need to hear this message of hope and love. But we can’t do it without your help. That’s why we are asking you to prayerfully consider partnering with us in spreading this message to LGBTQ people and their loved ones this season. Every gift, whether one time or on a monthly basis, helps make a difference in someone’s life who is wrestling (often in isolation) to reconcile their faith with their sexuality and feel fully loved by God.

If you are willing to partner with us as we continue in this mission, please visit our Donate tab. Your donation could help save someone’s life who is contemplating suicide, help someone feel less isolated and find community, or help a Christian parent of an LGBTQ child embrace and love them fully for the very first time.  Together we can make a difference and create a more loving place for us all to live.

So please consider partnering with us, and don’t forget to spread the word with your family/friends about our event in D.C. next weekend! I’m so grateful for each of you and pray that as you continue on in your journey, you will know that you are beautiful and loved by God just as you are and feel the awe and wonder that comes with knowing you are fully included in the kingdom of God.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

 

Why I Believe In, Support, and Advocate for Church Clarity


A few years ago, my wife and I tried an experiment. We went to visit a sister church of the church I grew up in. On our first Sunday there, the pastor preached a sermon about their doors being open to everyone in the community. “Everyone is welcome,” he said. He went to extensive lengths to explain that no matter what your background or financial status, no matter where you lived or what “sin” you committed; whether you were a single mother, or had been incarcerated, or lived on the streets, you were welcome and belonged here.

My wife and I sat listening carefully to that list, but (not to our surprise) heard no mention of the LGBT community among the people listed. I knew this pastor and his wife from the parent church we had all previously been a part of. So following the service, I decided to challenge him on it.

I wrote him a letter, mentioning my background, my long involvement at our parent church, and my recent marriage to my wife.

I asked him if he truly meant all were welcome, or if his statement meant everyone…except me.

He didn’t remember me at first. But upon agreeing to meet us both for coffee to discuss the matter, he remembered both me and my family very well. Our mutual connection to a former church world and memories we both shared softened his heart toward us a bit, and the door seemed to open a little as we sat and dialogued about the journey my wife and I had been on. He asked questions with a fairly open mind. He seemed open to learning. He admitted that he didn’t necessarily feel “called” to minister to the LGBT community (whatever that meant), but that his church was rather neutral on the subject and that we would never hear him preach about it from the pulpit one way or the other. He wanted us to feel welcome in his church.

So then the real question came.

“So if I wanted to join the worship team, or lead a small group, would I be allowed to do that?” I asked. He paused, and admitted he wasn’t sure. No one had been gutsy enough to ask him that point blank before. He said he would pray about it, talk to the church leadership, and let us know.

Any of you who have been through a similar process know what the answer was. Like many other churches, we were “welcome” to attend, to give our money, to volunteer our time, but not to lead. Leading as a gay Christian woman wasn’t a risk they were willing to take or theologically support.

For some reason (perhaps longing, perhaps nostalgia…perhaps stupidity) my wife and I decided to visit just one more time. The day we decided to go, we ironically ended up in the middle of a two weeks sermon series on sex. The first sermon (which we had missed the previous week) had been on “Good Sex” and the week we showed up, was the discussion of “Bad Sex.”

A knot began forming in my stomach from the moment I heard the title and continued to church with every passing minute. I waited, in fear and anticipation of what may come.

To my shock (but sadly, not my surprise), when listing out the examples of bad sex (among which were pedophilia, pornography, and incest), this pastor – the same pastor we’d just had coffee with only weeks prior – also listed homosexuality.

I wanted to stand up and walk out right then and there.

But, attempting to give him the benefit of the doubt and the chance for some caveat that would redeem his statement, I stayed glued to my seat. But that statement never came.

I left feeling so deeply hurt that day.

I was hurt because he told me to my face that we’d never hear him talk about this from the pulpit. I was hurt because I felt like we had established some kind of rapport and respect for one another, yet he still listed my beautiful and pure marriage to my wife as defiled. I was hurt because I felt betrayed yet again by someone that knew my history, my family, and with whom I shared years of mutual memories.

We never again went back to that church again.

I marinated on that service for weeks. Finally, I felt like I needed to tell this pastor how his words affected me. After pouring our my pain and heartache, his response was short and simple: he wasn’t going to apologize or alter what the Bible clearly stated as truth. We never spoke again.

For this reason, and many others, I am excited about the launch of this new project of Church Clarity that is advocating for transparency regarding church policies of LGBTQ inclusion in the church. It is so very needed.

It’s needed because the difference between “welcoming” and “affirming” matters. I matters a lot.

It marks the difference between “you are equal here” and “you are welcome despite the fact that you’re flawed.” It marks the difference between “we celebrate who you are” and “we want to fix who you are.” And it marks the different between “we embrace you” and “we love the sinner, but hate the sin.”

Church Clarity is needed for so many reasons:

It’s needed so the LGBT person knows what to expect before they walk through the door.

It’s needed so that we feel safe.

It’s needed so that we know where we belong and where we will feel sub-human.

It’s needed because we don’t need any more spiritual trauma than we’ve already experienced.

It’s needed because we need to feel equal, and included.

For these reasons, I stand with Church Clarity. And I encourage you to do the same.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

For Parents of LGBTQ Kids

Hey Friends,

This last week I had the honor of speaking to a group of over 1,200 parents of LGBTQ kids online through a Facebook LIVE event. They were gracious enough to let me share the recording with you in hopes that it may help you along your own journey as well.

If you are the parent of an LGBTQ child and are looking for support and community, please consider joining the Parents of LGBTQ Kids Support Group on Facebook. To join, send a private message to the group administrator, or email Susan Berland directly at: susan@susanhopeberland.com.

Because Love Makes ALL the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Believe Out Loud: When Coming Out Costs You Everything, by Amber Cantorna

Hey Friends,

I had the privilege to write for Believe Out Loud this week in honor of National Coming Out day and share my story as well as give some advice to those who are considering coming out. You can read about it here:

When Coming Out Costs You Everything, by Amber Cantorna

Also, if you or your friends live in Albuquerque, please come see me tonight (10/12) at Bookworks at 6pm or on Saturday (10/14) at Church of the Good Shepherd at 1pm!

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber

Note: This post was originally published at Believe Out Loud, a program of Intersections.

An Article I Wrote for the Huffington Post

Hey Friends,

I was honored to write a piece for the Huffington Post that released today in honor of National Coming Out Week. Please check it out!

Here’s What Happened When The Daughter Of An Anti-LGBTQ ‘Family’ Group Exec Came Out

Also, if you live in Albuquerque (or if you know someone that does!) that is officially our first stop on the Refocusing My Family Book Tour and I will be there this weekend! I will be at Bookworks this Thursday (10/12) at 6:00pm and at Church of the Good Shepherd this Saturday (10/14) at 1:00pm. Come out and join us if you can!

You can view more events and event details by visiting my website. Hope to see you there!

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Refocusing My Family Releases TODAY!!!

Hey Friends!

The day we’ve all been waiting for has finally arrived! Refocusing My Family officially releases today and is now available (almost!) everywhere books are sold! You can go into your local bookstore, or place your order on Amazon today.

I’m so excited to finally share my journey with you in the form of this memoir. It’s been a labor of love and I’m so glad that it has finally turned into something tangible you can now hold in your hands and share with your friends.

If you have a moment, there are 4 ways you can help spread the word about Refocusing My Family:

  1. Take a photo of yourself holding the book, or a photo of you and your family (or family of choice) with the book, and post online-tagging me (@AmberNCantorna) and including the hashtags #RefocusingMyFamily and #RMFtour.
  2.  Write and post a review on Amazon (and if you have time, copy and paste it in Barnes and Noble too!) as soon as you finished the book. The review doesn’t have to be long, a couple sentences is just fine!) but it goes a long way in helping the book gain traction.
  3. Share a quote from the book or encouraging shout-out on social media, tagging me (@AmberNCantorna) and including the hashtag #RefocusingMyFamily and #RMFtour.
  4. Encourage your friends to attend one of the 20+ Refocusing My Family events nation-wide coming up! The tour schedule is below and we are continuing to add new dates and locations. Almost all of these events are completely free, so come when you can and encourage your friends to do the same!

Thank you again so much for all your support and encouragement! I read each review, each shout-out on social media, and each note of encouragement I receive and they all mean so much. I can’t wait to see where God is going to take us on this journey. Together we can make our world a more loving and safe place for us all to live.

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

 

 

Refocusing My Family (An Excerpt from Ch. 18 of “Refocusing My Family”)

In early 2016, I sat across the dinner table from the national trans advocate and former megachurch pastor, Rev. Dr. Paula Williams. I told her I was thinking of going public with my story and asked if she had any advice for me. She sat calmly, probing a bit, and asked me a series of difficult questions. Feeling a little like I was being interrogated, it was clear to me she was getting at something; I just wasn’t sure what it was. Then, after collecting the information she felt she needed, she looked me in the eyes with an intensity that came both from a heart of love and a heart of compassion, and said, “Amber, embedded in your identity is a responsibility to be a voice for change.”

I sat with that profound statement and let it resonate for a moment. It felt like God in human form had just spoken to me. It was a divine moment that confirmed what I already felt I was supposed to do with the story I’d been given. Struck with both the weight of that responsibility and the magnitude of it, that phrase repeated itself in my spirit for days. That’s how I knew it was God. And that’s how I knew it was time to tell my story.

It’s not an easy story to tell. Writing it has taken me on quite a journey. But I believe that part of the reason I’m still alive today is so that my story could be used to help change the culture for those still searching for hope to live authentically.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are over eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their LGB peers who report no or low levels of family rejection. 40 percent of transgender adults have reported attempting suicide with 92 percent of them doing so before the age of 25.

One of the driving forces behind writing this book was how close I came to being one of those statistics. The way family and friends respond to LGBT loved ones when they come out, directly affects their lives, and their perceived worth. I wish my parents understood that. It could have saved us all from so much heartache.

I’m so grateful for the life I have now and the joy I find in the family my wife and I are creating together. But looking back, I still think about my life in two parts: before coming out, and after coming out. In many ways, it feels like I’ve lived two completely different lives divided by one defining moment of authenticity. I’ve tried to blend those two worlds together whenever I can—like carrying on some of the traditions from my childhood. But when it comes to having my parents as a part of Clara’s and my life, I’ve had to allow myself grace to accept the uncomfortable disconnect and grieve the loss.

In many ways, I’m still the same person I’ve always been. I still love music and have a strong passion for worship. I still love the holidays and fostering traditions that make them special. I still love creating a cozy home and hospitable environment. I still enjoy coaching and have a deep heart for people. And I still cuddle up next to the fireplace every fall for an Anne of Green Gables marathon. Being gay is just one part of who I am, but so much of me remains the same.

And at the same time, because I have been ostracized by people who want my sexuality to define me, much of me has changed. I’ve had to fight for my relationship with God against a culture that says you can’t be both gay and Christian. I’ve had to study the Bible deeply for myself and learn how to defend my faith to those who question it. And I’ve had to look at issues through the eyes of the marginalized. I now stand with all people living in marginalized groups, whether I’m a part of them or not, because I believe that’s what Jesus did, and because I’ve seen firsthand what happens to people when we don’t. All of these things in turn have made me a stronger, healthier, and more well-rounded individual.

But in the process, I’ve also had to refocus a few things…

Refocusing My Family officially releases tomorrow, October 1st! You can order your copy HERE now!

Also, mark your calendar for the Refocusing My Family event nearest you!