Wrestling With My Adventurous Spirit

Over the Fourth of July, I vacationed with my wife and a couple friends in Glenwood Springs. It was my first time that far west on I-70 in Colorado and one of the most famous hikes in the whole state is just outside that quaint little town: Hanging Lake.

Before my back injury three and a half years ago, I was an avid hiker. My best friend, Stacy and I went out almost every weekend on an 8-10 mile hike. We loved the challenge of exploring new trails and training for our ultimate goal, which was hiking Pikes Peak. 102_1233_0040aWe planned, trained, and prepared, and we finally achieved our goal late that summer. Then we slowed down and took a bit of a break for awhile. And life, as it so often does, started to get in the way. As much as I loved escaping to the mountains, my real life with its struggles between faith and sexuality were proving to be hard enough. I got to the point where I didn’t want to work so hard at everything I did. I wanted something that I could just enjoy, without it being hard. I needed some reprieve. Stacy’s unending support led us to choosing some easier trails, and though we didn’t go out as often, when we did, it was on a trail that we enjoyed without struggle. In fact, it was on one of those very trails that Stacy and I discussed how I was going to come out to my family.

But then more life happened: Stacy moved out of state, I moved to Denver after coming out, and hiking ended up on the back burner for a time while I struggled just to survive everyday life. Not long after that, my back injury followed and hiking was ruled out almost completely.

It’s now been three and a half years since my back injury and in all honesty, I’ve managed about one good hike a year. Pathetic for an adventurous soul like me. But it’s been all my physical body and crazy schedule could manage, though my soul has desperately longed for more.

I’m a bucket list girl, an adventure girl, a throw-caution-to-the-wind-and-live-life-to-the-fullest girl. I don’t like watching from the sidelines, and I don’t like that my pain has caused me to be more cautious, more fearful, and less prone to adventure. Nor have I liked accepting the fact that certain things on my bucket list are things I may now never be able to do. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially since I’m still haven’t even yet hit 33.

So when I got to Glenwood and my friends wanted to hike Hanging Lake, my heart and mind split and divided themselves in opposite directions. My heart, which still longs for adventure and beauty said, download“Yes! This is a Bucket List moment! I definitely want to do this!” My head, which now filters everything through a lens of pain management, was, I’ll admit it…scared. Laying in bed the night before we planned to hike the trail, I thought about the trail stats that claimed to climb over 1,000 feet of elevation in just one mile. As a hiker, I knew what that meant. It meant it was hard. It meant it was nothing but up. It meant my body would hate me. I admit the more I thought about it (and about the setbacks I’ve had because of other similar choices/experiences over the last couple of years), the more I began to work myself into a tizzy. “What if I can’t make it?” “What if I hold everyone else back?” “What if I have a setback that takes days or even weeks to recover from?” Fear rose up inside me. I even started coming up with excuses of why I shouldn’t go and why everyone else should just do it without me.

But then, with everything I could muster, I began to reason myself down from a state of panic in the dark and quiet bedroom that night. If you know me, you know that not making it to the top is pretty much not an option. Once I’ve started, by golly, I’m going to make it to the top! But as I lay there, I told myself that I would take it slow. I told myself I didn’t mind if I had to send the others ahead. I told myself I would just do my best. Because the truth is, I want to continue to live a beautiful, exciting, adventurous life regardless of my chronic pain. I don’t want to just sit by and watch others live life around me. Yes, I need to be smart. And yes, there are some things (right now, still many things) that I just have to say “no” to. But I’m going to keep trying. I’m going to keep pushing myself and working at getting better. I’m going to keep facing my fears, because I want to truly live.

Upon returning from Glenwood last week, I pulled my Bucket List up on my computer to check in and see where I was at. I’d been putting it off because I’ve been discouraged at how many of things I can’t do and know I maybe never will again. But as I read down each line on the list of over 200 items, what I found instead was that I had actually checked several of them off. Yes, there are a few that I may never get to experience, but there are still so many that I can. And realizing that lit a candle of hope in my spirit where discouragement has been sitting.

Oh, and if you’re wondering? I did make it to the top of Hanging Lake. One of my friends, at the very bottom of the trailhead pulled a sturdy stick from the stream for me to use as a hiking stick, and everyone was more than gracious and patient with my pace. I spent most of the next day in bed, but with lots of TLC, I recovered quite nicely and was overall proud of how well my body did.

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We had a great time. We made it. And we got the Bucket List check! So the question for you this week is:

What fear do you need to face?maxresdefaultWhat’s on your Bucket List?

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

Eugene Peterson and My Grandmother: A Double Dose of Heartache

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On Wednesday morning, the LGBT Christian community experienced a wave of excitement and encouragement as Eugene Peterson was quoted in a Religion News Service article by Jonathan Merritt as being supportive of same-sex marriage.

Whenever an influential Christian leader comes out as affirming, it feels like we’ve inched one step closer to having a more loving, more equal, more inclusive place to belong. But with a name as big as Eugene Peterson, who has written over 30 books and has also penned “The Message” translation of the Bible, we knew instantly, that this had the capability of creating a large shift for inclusion in our Christian communities. Perhaps, Eugene’s affirmation would lend courage and strength to others who, up to this point, have held back due to fear of backlash? Or perhaps this would challenge the minds of unaffirming believers to look at the issue more deeply?

We had hope. We felt encouraged. We thought we were one step closer to a fully inclusive church.

But all that came crashing down only 24 hours later when Eugene Peterson “after reflection and prayer” changed his mind and retracted his statements saying he would not perform a same-sex wedding. Adding further salt to the wound, he said that he’d never been asked to do so and “frankly, I hope I never am asked.” This sent a shock through us all that resonated in the pit of our already aching souls. The wounds that we as the LGBT Christian community have faced have already left us bloody and bruised. Therefore, when a leader with such influence and ability to change our culture speaks up, only to then crumble under the weight of the cost that comes with those words, is not only disheartening for us, but is also deeply painful. In turn, it causes many to become more angry, more cynical, and more distanced from the very thing we are trying to reconcile with: the church.

The greatest tragedy of it all is that in so doing, it not only distances many LGBT people from the church, but it also causes many to distance from God as the church and God become blended as one in their experience of pain and disapproval.

It would have been better for Eugene Peterson to say he was not affirming of same sex marriage from the beginning than for him to say that he was affirming and then retract his statements. While his words can be rescinded, the damage that has now been done in the hearts of thousands of LGBT people cannot.

For me, I received a double dose of pain on Thursday when, after already hearing of Eugene Peterson’s retraction, I later received a group Facebook message from my grandmother.

My grandmother and I haven’t spoken in several years, but Thursday, she took it upon herself to include me in a group Facebook message that she sent out to the family:

The movie “Corpus Christi” is due to be released this August. It is a disgusting film which depicts Jesus and his disciples as homosexuals! It’s a revolting mockery of our Lord. But we Christians can make a difference.  Let’s stand for what we believe and stop the mockery of Jesus Christ our Savior. I am forwarding this to all I think will respect and appreciate being informed. Please help us prevent such offenses against our Lord. If you are not interested and do not have the 2 minutes it will take to do this, please don’t complain if God does not seem to have time for you. GET THE WORD OUT! Will God be able to find at least 50 righteous people who are willing to express their concern and voice their opinion against this act of blasphemy?

There was more, but…you get the point. I don’t know where to begin to tell you how aghast I was to read this. First, I was appalled that my grandmother would send something so strongly worded and full of hate. It was proof to me of how easy it is to bully from behind a computer screen as opposed to a person’s face.

Second, I was deeply disturbed that my 80-year-old grandmother would believe something like this at face value without researching to see if it is even true (which, by the way, it is not. Snopes says that ongoing claims to this movie are false and that letters and emails like this one have been circulating for over 32 years). While it doesn’t surprise me, it does disturb me. This is exactly how rumors and fall information are spread.

The clincher in all this for me though was the fact that, even though my grandmother hasn’t spoken to me in years, she went out of her way to make sure I was included in this family message. It was deeply painful on so many levels. But in the midst of that, I found myself longing for someone else within the family to speak up and say something.

If they don’t stand up to her false accusations, surely someone will at least defend me and call her out on her insensitivity, I thought. Yet sadly, there’s been nothing but silence. Not a word has been said by anyone in reference to her false claims or her cold-hearted gesture. Both my grandmother’s words and the rest of my family’s silence hurt in equal degrees.

It’s made me painfully aware of just how far I’ve come. As much as it hurts to be shunned from the family I once loved and held so dear, I’m so grateful that I am no longer part of a tribe that spews hate and tries to disguise it as love. I’m ashamed that I ever was. Dear God, forgive me.

So this weekend, my view of the world is a little more jaded, and a little less hopeful. My heart has been wounded again by both the family of God and the family I’m related to by blood.

But come Monday morning, I will once again get out of bed and work for equality just as hard if not more than I did before. Stories and experiences like this are why I do what I do. We need to press on. We need to hold tight to each other. And we need to keep sharing our stories…there is still so much work to be done.

If you’re feeling downtrodden, anger, or cynical this week because of this discouraging news, know that your feelings are valid and that you are deeply and fully loved. We will get there, one person, one story, one life at a time.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

*For a thorough summary of the events regarding Eugene Peterson this week, read this very poignant TIME article by Matthew Vines.

 

My Evening with the Mama Bears

Inkedflat,1000x1000,075,f.u1_LIThis week, I had the opportunity of being the special guest on Serendipitydoodah’s Facebook LIVE event. Serendipitydoodah is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. With currently over 1,900 members they continue to grow and connect across denominations and struggles as they share one thing in common: their LGBTQ children.

This is my second time speaking to this group and each time it is an honor. With the presence of my own parents absent from my life, I love soaking up all the Mama Bear love and in turn offering some of my own insight and experience.

Prior to my Facebook LIVE event the other night (which feels a lot like talking to yourself in the mirror and hoping someone is listening!) the moms of the group had the chance to submit questions for me to answer during my hour of time with them. I’ve chosen three of them from the list to share with you here this week:

What can we do to help our LGBTQ kids stay connected to their faith?

Love them unconditionally. Kids learn about God from their parents. If you demonstrate an unconditional love for who they are and celebrate their sexuality, then they will have no need or reason to distance themselves from God. Your embrace eliminates the stigma, shame, or belief that who they are is not acceptable before God. If they feel fully loved by you, then they will feel fully loved by God. That is how you keep them connected to their faith.

Do you have advice on how we can be supportive to those in the LGBTQ community who do not have support from their parents/families?

Yes! First of all, love them. You have no idea what level of rejection they’ve faced from their own family, friends, or church. Feeling embraced and loved, especially from a parental figure, goes so far.

Second, be vocal allies for them. Stand up for them in the circles you interact with and include them just as you would anyone else.

Lastly, remember holidays. Even five years later, holidays continue to be hard for me. But it’s not just the big three (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas); it’s also Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my Coming Out anniversary, my wedding anniversary, my birthday. I remember the first year after Clara and I got married my adopted Nana called me and wished me a happy anniversary. That meant so much to me that she remembered and cared enough to call. Or the first year after I met Clara’s parents, Clara’s mom called me for my birthday because she knew my own mother wouldn’t. Those moments mean everything to those that have lost family. It’s the little moments, the thoughtfulness, the feeling of being remembered and celebrated the way you should that makes all the difference in the world to those who have lost support and love from their biological families.

What advice do you have for moms who are dealing with close family members and friends who are not affirming and view their child as sinning if they date or marry someone of the same sex?

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Stand by your child. I realize this may cost you some relationships with people you love. Essentially, you are having to come out just like your child is having to come out. It’s different, but you are still experiencing some of the consequences of authentic living. Regardless, I encourage you to be the parent and protect your child. Learn to set healthy boundaries. This is not easy to do with the ones we love. But for your health, safety, and sanity you will need to learn to set them. Think through and know ahead of time what you will and will not tolerate before going into a potentially risky situation with your close family or friends. Your relatives may not understand, but your child will feel safe. And in the end, that is all that matters.

 

Above all, remember….love makes all the difference.

Amber Cantorna

P.S. Tour dates are officially starting to show up on the Events page of my website. Check it out! And shoot me an email if I’m coming to YOUR city…or if I’m not yet, but you’d like to help schedule an event in your area!

Why My Heart Aches on Father’s Day

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“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 got older and 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 5 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 5 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 3 years, we’ve been completely estranged.

The monumental moments that my dad has missed over these last 5 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 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 5 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 5 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, and tell them you are proud of them every chance you get.

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

 

Our Internal Struggle with Power

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I have a confession: my wife and I enjoy binge watching Scandal. Similar to other TV series we’ve watched like Revenge, Prison Break, and Breaking Bad, something about the suspense and over-load of twisted details keeps us ever engaged and always wanting more.

I can’t watch them week by week, mostly because my mind can’t keep track of all the intricate moving pieces that weave the story into the twisted plot that keeps me addicted. My wife is much better at this. We may have a several month sabbatical from one show while waiting for the next season to release (or line up in our queue) and before sitting down to watch it, she can recall the entire story line (including names and details) of the previous episode in perfect detail. I usually have to watch the final episode of the previous season anyway. My brain does not have a strong enough storing cabinet for such details. But thankfully, she indulges me.

Finishing the final episode of Scandal’s most recent season caused me to ponder the kind of society we live in that has created such a strong pull for these type of shows. Then I realized, if you put them side by side, you see one common theme throughout them all: the corruption of morals due to a lust for power. These people blind-side, back stab, and even brutally kill in cold blood to climb their way to the top of political power and the social status ladder. These characters are somehow convinced that doing so will make their life more fulfilled.

What kind of world are we living in? I asked myself more than once as I saw eerie similarities between some of Scandal’s most recent season and our current political climate.

It’s shocking, and often horrifying, what people will do for money, power, fame, reputation, and appearance.

But scale it back a bit and these shows really aren’t that far off from our everyday life. Now, hopefully none of us would ever even contemplate physically murder someone, especially as coldly as Huck or Jake Ballard do. But I bet each of us has done something dishonest or something that goes against our morals/values in order to gain power or maintain appearances.

Perhaps it’s the white lie you told to your boss that made you look better, but took the credit away from another co-worker. Or maybe you embellished your skill set to make yourself more marketable for the next rung on the corporate ladder. Or perhaps you threw a friend or family member under the bus to maintain appearances in front of your “cool” friends, or snubbed someone you felt was beneath you just to make yourself feel better. Maybe you even convinced your LGBTQ child to stay in the closet to protect their reputation (or your own), or introduced your son’s partner as a “friend” to your own circle of loved ones in order to guard yourself and keep the peace. If we look closely, don’t we, just like the characters on TV, somehow convinced ourselves that doing these things will make our life better? More power-full? More fulfilled?

Which then begs me to ask the question…WHY aren’t we fulfilled?

What is it that keeps us always reaching for the next best thing, even when it exhausts us day after day?

We’ve all said or done things we regret in order to make ourselves look better than we really are. But it comes at a cost. Think for a moment about how the “other” person–the one you snubbed, the friend you didn’t side with, the person you beat out of a job, the child you silenced–felt. Think about the way your actions dented their own spirits, hurt their feelings, or bruised their self esteem.

And then, think about this: what if we were simply content?download

What if, instead of wanting what other people have, we were thankful for what was already present in our lives and right in front of us?

What if, instead of putting others down to make ourselves look better, we brought them up to our level by speaking more highly of their skills than we do of our own?

What if, instead of making our child or someone we love suppress who they are in order to make us comfortable, we instead put our own reputation on the line and fiercely stand by them in alliance?

What if, we believed in each other, valued one another, and put others needs ahead of our own?

Then maybe, just maybe, that lust for power and position and money could be replaced with things like equality and justice and love.

And maybe, we could change the world and in turn, make it a more fulfilling place to live.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber

Just a Quick Note Before the Weekend to Say…

Hey Everyone!

So I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. At least, not completely. I am still here and working hard for equality every day. In fact, it’s been such an insane couple of weeks that I can’t seem to even stop long enough to breathe and collect my thoughts in order to compile them into something coherent for you to read!img_3106

I realize this is a problem. Breathing is in fact, important. And I am aiming to do just that this weekend. But while I try to collect myself enough and calm my soul to write something half-way inspiring, let me give you a quick update of what’s been going on.

Here are a few of the things
I am doing and how you can engage with me:

1) First, Refocusing My Family endorsements have all come in this week and I am very excited about the list of people gracious enough to read and stand behind my work. Among these names are people like John Pavlovitz, David Gushee, Jennifer Knapp, Brian McLaren, Paula Williams, and Colby Martin. I am so humbled and honored by their support and can’t wait to share all of their comments with you!

2) Refocusing My Family should be available for pre-order on Amazon by June 15th! As soon as I hear it’s available, believe me, I will let you know.

 

How-to-bubble-map-83) We are in the process of nailing down speaking engagements and tour dates all across the country. We filmed a pre-released reading and interview last week and are putting together a press kit that should be ready to go out early this next week.  If you are wanting to help be “feet on the ground” to get either a speaking engagement or a book reading/signing event scheduled in your area, now is the time to step up and volunteer! You can email me with your interest and inquiries at Beyond.AmberCantorna@gmail.com.

4) We are still in desperate need of funding to get Beyond off the ground and to really spread the message of hope across the country. What we are doing now, we are doing in faith, believing that the funding we need will come through. We are looking for both personal and corporate sponsors. We have sponsorship packages we are offering to corporate sponsors that include marketing opportunities for their organization as well as incentives for personal sponsors available. All gifts are tax deductible. If you or someone you know may be interested in one of these options, please email me. We are open to sponsorships from churches, bookstores, LGBT centers, and LGBT affirming organizations/ministries as well as personal donors! So help me think outside the box!

5) Finally, if you blog, run a podcast, or write for a newspaper/magazine (or know someone who does) and would be interested in featuring a story on my upcoming book, please contact me! We are lining up interviews for the summer to get a strong push behind the book and need your help!

So those are a few of the main things going on in my world. I hope you will pick one of those ways to jump in and help. I’d love to have you as part of the process and get to know you better! And of course, I value your prayers, support, and messages of encouragement.

That’s all for now. I promise this next week I will stop long enough to breathe, decompress a bit, and write something more heart-felt to you all. But I’m grateful that you are understanding of the craziness that life brings on this journey and thankful that you are traveling along with me.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

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The Unexpected People Who Change Your Life

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I’m amazed at how people can subtly change our life, sometimes without us even knowing it. This past week, because of an unexpected situation, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the people that have changed my life.

Some of you know that I deal with chronic pain and undergo a somewhat intensive treatment on a regular basis. Last week, I walked into my doctor’s office with my wife and my service dog, Half Pint ready for another treatment. The three of us always go to my treatments together and Half Pint has become so well loved by the staff that they claim her as their office mascot. It’s one of Half Pint’s favorite places to accompany me and she gets excited every time I tell her that’s where we’re going. And last week was no exception. We all walked in with smiles.#34 Caption- Half Pint becomes a service dog

But the climate in the office was different that day. The staff, usually bubbly and excited to see us (especially Half Pint), were not their smiley selves. Following one of the medical staff back into the treatment room, I said,

“How are you today?”

“Ok,” she responded. “Just sad, you know,” as if I was supposed to know what she was talking about. But I didn’t.

“Why sad?” I asked, beginning to clue in to the fact that I was missing something.

“Didn’t you get the letter?”

What letter?” I said, starting to feel nervous.

“Dr. Chris is retiring at the end of the month.”

For a moment, my world stopped. She explained that, due to complications with his own chronic pain, he was retiring in hopes of avoiding extensive surgery. Instant tears formed in my eyes. I was totally caught off guard.

Waiting for Dr. Chris to enter the room, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The shock I felt was similar to when you receive the news that a family member was in a serious car accident, or your best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Retirement is supposed to be a happy, celebratory time. But it was clear that nobody was excited about this unexpected news. It was even reflected on Dr. Chris’ face when he walked in the room. This was not planned. This was sudden, and this was hard. I fought tears throughout the entire appointment. (That will teach me to check my mail!)

Making it through my treatment, I barely got it to the car before I fell apart. I cried the rest of the night.

Spending the next several days in bed (as I always do following this treatment), it gave me time to analyze the situation. I didn’t expect the news of my doctor retiring to have such a strong affect on me. But it did, and I struggled to sleep for days afterward. My heart was heavy for him and the extent of the pain he was battling, for his family and the transition this meant for all of them, and for me and what this meant for the future of my own treatment and recovery.

What I realized in those heavy, restless nights was that Dr. Chris had become more than just my doctor. Seeing him every few weeks for the last two and a half years, he had taken me from being bed-ridden, to being functional and mobile again. When other doctor’s doubted my pain because they couldn’t find evidence of it on a screening test, Dr. Chris believed me. He knew instantly what was wrong and gently, with love, care, and compassion guided me towards healing.

When I experienced an unexpected setback this last summer, he  looked me in the eye and made me promise not to get discouraged, because he knew I was going to get better. It was like having a D.O. and a built in therapist all rolled into one. He joked around and teased me to keep the pain of what I was going through light-hearted. And he always asked about my personal life, knowing the level of stress I was under often dictated the extent to which I continued (or didn’t continue) to heal. As time went on, he often ended our appointment with a hug rather than a handshake. He went above and beyond his call of duty as a doctor and I never doubted that he truly cared.

Reflecting on all that this past weekend made me realize, Dr. Chris and his office staff have become more like family than simply the medical office that I visit ever few weeks. I’ve trusted Dr. Chris. I’ve felt safe under his medical care. And I’ve relied on his wisdom and encouragement to lead me towards further recovery and mobility.

It’s clear that I did not see this coming. In fact, I thought we would move away from Colorado long before Dr. Chris would retire, and frequently told my wife that if we did, I would still come back to Denver for treatments and follow-ups with Dr. Chris as needed. He’s been the only one I’ve trusted with my medical care after many misguided attempts at other facilities.

So my life is about to change to a degree. And it’s with great sadness that I move forward and attempt to establish my care with another physician. This has made me acutely aware of the importance of never taking people in your life for granted. You never know when your life or their’s is going to change.unexpected_love-374194

So this week, I urge you to consider:

Who’s in your life right now that, whether you’ve been aware of it or not, is changing your life?

Do you take them for granted?

Who’s life are you influencing and how can you encourage them this week?

I encourage you to take inventory of your life and those who, in either the foreground or background, are doing things to change your life for the better. Make a special point to thank them this week.

I will have my final appointment with Dr. Chris this coming Tuesday. I will do my best not to cry, and I will be bringing him a home-made apple pie (which I hear is his favorite) as way to say thank you, and “coping” cookies for the staff as they face the big transition ahead.

Dr. Chris–thank you. You’ve saved and changed my life. I will miss you deeply.

Mother’s Day Reflections from a Motherless LGBTQ Daughter

To-the-motherless-daughters

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 doing mother/daughter things together. 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.

Five Mother’s Days have now passed without my mother. I wish I could say it’s gotten easier, but leading up to Mother’s Day this year has been the hardest for me yet. Digging in and dissecting my life and upbringing this past year has led me to discover some truths about my relationship with my mother–truths that have not been easy to accept.

So this Mother’s Day there’s 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 five 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, starting 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, undestanding 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. :)

Refocusing My Family and Beyond Update

Dear Friend,

     Since my last email to you announcing the launch of Beyond, many exciting things have happened!
 
     Refocusing My Family is currently being reviewed by people for endorsements. Among those willing to endorse the book are author/theologian Brian D. McLaren, singer/songwriter Jennifer Knapp, Christian ethicist David Gushee, film producer of “For the Bible Tells Me So” Daniel Karslake, and well known blogger and activist John Pavlovitz, as well as about a dozen others. I’m excited about this strong list of names and believe it will help in catching the eye of those who may not otherwise open the book. We are excited that it will be available for pre-order on Amazon in just a few weeks!
     Since the launch of Beyond, I have met with someone from Out Front Colorado that is helping us network with other LGBTQ+ organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, the Matthew Shepard Foundation, PFLAG, and The LGBT Center. I also had an interview with another person from Out Front yesterday and they will be running an article on Beyond and my story in one of their upcoming editions.
     We’re also in the process of bringing a part-time intern on board to help with the many tasks that still lie ahead of us to really get Beyond up and running. I am interviewing a candidate this weekend and am excited about the prospect.
     As far as our fundraising campaign goes, we’ve had a handful of donations come through from people who follow us online or receive the weekly Beyond Blog. However, those donations have only covered about 2% of our total goal. We’ve scaled back our initial budget from $52,000 to $48,000 for this first year but we still have so very far to go in raising the needed funds. Part of this will be done through applying for grants and talking to larger corporations. However there are still a few ways you can help!
 

Three ways you can help:

1) Consider giving a tax-deductible gift to Beyond by visiting http://refocusingbeyond.org/donate/. Every donation counts! There is no amount too small!
2) Share and talk about this with your friends. The more we spread the word, the more people we can reach. Our goal through Beyond is to focus on helping LGBTQ+ people through their coming out process, especially those that come from conservative upbringings or strict religious families. There’s still so many people that need to hear a message of hope.
3) Consider whether your company may want to partner with us in this mission of social justice and activism. They can do that two ways. A) They can simply make a donation through the link above, OR B) They can consider being a sponsor and funding one or more of the cities on our upcoming speaking tour. By doing that, their company logo would then be placed on our marketing materials that we will be taking to our 16+ cities. If this seems like it may be a good fit for your company or for more information, please contact me at: Beyond.AmberCantorna@gmail.com.
   
 Thank you again for your love and support during this time. It is both exciting and overwhelming but I can’t wait to see what God does and the doors He opens for us in this coming year.

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

 

Finding Comfort in the Unknown

largeI’m always inspired by how easily wonder and mystery comes for little children. Their eyes get big as they believe in the impossible, or they might gasp in awe at something that to them seems like pure magic. For them, it’s so simple. They’re so full of belief, so curious, and so easily excited by discovering the things that we, as adults, think of as mundane.

Growing up, there was a certain degree of magical wonder in our home. We believed in fantasy characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even the Tooth Fairy for as long as our young minds would hold onto them. I remember one Easter in particular my parents went to special lengths to make the Easter Bunny believable by using powdered sugar to make bunny prints on our carpet leading us through our home to our Easter baskets. For a woman like my mother who was a meticulous housekeeper, that was sacrifice!

As the years passed, the Tooth Fairy faded and belief in the Easter bunny gave way to the simple giving and receiving of Easter baskets. However, at the plea of my inner child, my dad continued to dress up in a red suit and visit us each Christmas Eve until I was well out of college. It was one of my favorite magical Christmas moments every year.

But wonder and mystery were not as acceptable when it came to our faith. Growing up conservative, evangelical Christians, there was not as much wiggle room in regards to exploring the awe of Christ. Rules, expectations, and appearances took precedence over wonder, mystery, and awe. We seemed to find comfort in a God we could place in a box–a God we could understand. Black and white answers and principles that were either clearly right or clearly wrong were foundational to the functionality of our faith. We needed to know. We needed to have it all together. We needed to be right.

This theology of course, was very harmful to me as I got older. Unable to openly question my faith, I was trapped into believing in a very small God. This became especially complicated when I began to question my sexuality. Doubt was seen as a form of weakness and fear was believed to come from not centering yourself in the truth of Christ. Therefore everything was supposed to be “cured” by simply praying harder and believing in God more.

But this theory failed me when I realized I was gay. Being gay did not fit into the black and white theology I was raised on. As a result, I believed that God did not love or accept me because of this fatal flaw.

This version of faith failed me again when I came out to my parents, family, and friends. With very few exceptions, almost all of them followed their allegiance to their need for certainty and belief in what they thought was right, rather than being willing to confront what they did not understand and face their fear of the unknown out of love for me. As a result, I lost everyone I loved the most. What I learned, is that the need for certainty can be deadly. It can kill relationships, it can kill faith, and it can even take lives.

But over time on my journey of refocusing, I rediscovered wonder and awe. It’s not as scary to me now as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, I struggled for a long time to let go of my need for certainty. But what I learned was that certainty didn’t require any actual faith at all.

If you know everything already, what need do you have for God?

As with most people, the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. But rather than allowing that to frighten me, I’ve come to let it inspire me. It pushes me to discover and learn more. And my not knowing (or my questions, or my doubt) drive me to have an even deeper faith. Because believing in God, in the midst of my doubt and questions, is what faith is really all about to begin with.

So I’ve become comfortable with not knowing. I’ve become okay with not having all the answers worked out to all the big theological questions. I’ve learned to accept, and in fact, find comfort, in what I don’t know. It leads me to a greater place of mystery, and wonder, and awe of who God is. And in fact, it leads me to peace, because I’m free from the weight of having to have all the answers.

downloadI don’t know what comes to mind for you when you think of wonder and mystery: perhaps it’s the phenomena of space and the time that you saw the milky way on a dark, starry night; perhaps it’s the recollection of your wedding day or the day you brought a child into the world; perhaps you think of creation, or even evolution.

What you do not know or understand may provoke awe in you, or it may provoke fear. But today I encourage you to work towards a faith that allows space for your questions. Give your heart permission let go of your need for certainty and leave space for the unknown.

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Allow God to expand your understanding of what you don’t understand, and in turn create room for wonder, mystery, reverence, and awe.

Then, let it live inside of you every day.

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna