Posted on December 8, 2018
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 one of my tour trips last year, 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,
I can’t tell you how many times over the last several years people have told me that they love me like family. They mean well, trying to fill the void of the family I lost when I came out as gay. But unfortunately, I’ve been disappointed too many times to put weight in lip service love.
Some say they wish they would have known what I was going through sooner so that they could have been there for me. Yet the next time the same situation arises, their actions are unchanged and unreflective of the love they proclaim to have.
What you need to understand is that lip service love isn’t just disappointing to LGBTQ people, it’s devastating. So many LGBTQ people (myself included) have lost everything in the face of authenticity. They’ve been kicked out of their families, left without a home for the holidays, and forgotten by those who claimed to love them unconditionally. They’ve been discriminated against in the workplace, denied a safe place to use the restroom, refused the Eucharist by their church, and dehumanized in the most painful of ways. So to give them hope of genuine connection by saying you love them but then not follow through, is the emotional equivalent of them losing their nuclear family all over again.
It is deeply painful and destructive. And it has got to change before more lives are lost to feeling invisible and believing they are unworthy of love and belonging.
That’s why your love must be more than mere words. You love must produce actions that convey to LGBTQ people that they are seen and valued just as they are.
Here are just a few practical ways to make your love loud:
Make your love loud by being a vocal ally on social media. LGBTQ people are always watching and listening for those who truly have their back. Those that mean the most to me are not the people who tell me that they “love me like family” yet are ever absent from my life. Rather, it’s the people who put everything on the line in order to stand up for what is right. It’s the pastors who take a stand for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in their church, even if it costs them their job. It’s the friend who attends a conference with a LGBTQ loved one, just so that they can learn what it’s like to walk in their shoes. It’s the mom who fights fiercely for her LGBTQ child, even when that means being severed from her own biological family. That is a true ally. That is someone who is living out the love they proclaim.
Make your love loud by educating yourself. Read a book. Learn what is like to walk in a LGBTQ person’s shoes. Develop an inclusive theology that knows how to stand on its own two feet. Develop empathy for those who are being ostracized from their family or faith community. And develop an educated response for those who ask you why you support LGBTQ people.
Make your love loud by remembering the LGBTQ people in your life during the holidays. There is nothing more painful or more lonely than spending Thanksgiving by yourself, or being forgotten on Christmas, or never hearing the phone ring on your birthday. It’s easy to forget, yet so simple to remedy. If you have LGBTQ people in your life, write their birthday on your calendar and call them. Pick up the phone and let them hear your voice. Send them snail mail at Christmas. Invite them over for Easter. Remember them.
Make your love loud with your votes. If ever there was a time to register to vote and actually show up at the polls on voting day, it is now. Our country is perhaps more divisive than it has ever been. People are being cast aside like their lives don’t matter. If you want to show someone you love them, vote to protect their rights. I don’t think my wife has ever felt more betrayed than she did after the 2016 election when she found out that every single person in her office voted directly against protecting her basic human rights. As a gay, female, immigrant—it mattered. And it affected her so strongly that she didn’t go to work for an entire week following the election. Your votes and your voice matter. Use them to protect the dignity of those around you.
These are simple yet profound ways that you can make your love loud and prove to LGBTQ people that your love for them is real. They may not believe what they hear, but they will believe what they see. And love that is backed up with actions makes all the difference in the world.
Posted on September 27, 2018
There’s TWO big things that you should know about and only TWO Days left to be a part of them! I don’t want you to miss out! So here they are…
My upcoming book, “Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians” is now available for pre-order. BUT, if you pre-order by this Sunday, September 30th you can get it for 40% off by ordering HERE and using the promo code: UNASHAMED at checkout!
You don’t want to miss out on this. This is the book that everyone has been asking me for. The first book of its kind in this genre, Unashamed will take a holistic approach to coming out and share the stories of many LGBTQ people of faith while addressing important topics such as internalized homophobia, establishing an affirming community, knowing when you’re ready to come out, tips and strategies for coming out, the importance of healthy boundaries, how to tend to your soul in the midst of hurt and rejection, and how to embrace yourself and the unique place you have in the family of God. You won’t want to miss it!
My September Patreon campaign will be ending this Sunday, September 30th as well. While you can join Patreon at any time, there’s only TWO days left to join if you want to receive the added perk of being part of a private Facebook group that gets behind-the-scenes access to my journey back to music. After a decade away from my classical piano training, vocal touring, worship-leading, and performing background, I will be returning to one of the things I love most: music. If you join by Sunday with just $1.00, you will get to be part of a small, private community of people who, like you, joined within the first 30 days. In this group, I will be posting my creative and musical content as it comes to life! I’ll be writing and recording new music and YOU will be the first to have access to it! So join today and you’ll not only be helping me continue the work that I love with LGBTQ people of faith, but you’ll get to be a part of a great community and watch my music come back to life in the midst of it! Don’t miss out! I want to see you in my private group!
So those are my two big announcements for this weekend! In the coming weeks, you’ll get to see some of the amazing people that have endorsed “Unashamed” and hear their exciting thoughts about the book. AND I’ll be releasing info about “Unashamed” workshops coming to a select number of cities in Spring 2019! So stay tuned!
As always, thank you for believing in the work that I do. I’m so excited about these upcoming resources and hope you find them to be a helpful and healing balm for your soul.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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:
- 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!
- If you’re subscribed to my current blog, you have been automatically transferred to the new database, so you won’t miss any content!
- 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.
Much love to you all,
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:
- 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!
- 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,
“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,
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,