Updated on March 21, 2019
Gay Daughter of Focus on the Family Executive Releases First Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ People of Faith
As the recent United Methodist Church’s decision to tighten their restrictions on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and performing same-sex marriage demonstrates, being LGBTQ and Christian can be difficult and unwelcoming. But there is hope and there are affirming faith communities who embrace Christians of all kinds.
Author and LGBTQ advocate Amber Cantorna (Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God) empathizes with the feelings of loss, depression, and despair that LGBTQ Christians are feeling. As the gay daughter of a thirty-year-plus Focus on the Family executive, Cantorna was cast out of her family and her church when she came out. However, Cantorna found acceptance and healing through her faith and by finding an affirming community to support her during her coming-out journey. Now as part of her work dedicated to reconnecting LGBTQ Christians with their faith, Cantorna has published, Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians.
This practical and rich guide is invaluable for LGBTQ Christians as they consider coming out, and it is a precious tool for the allies who walk alongside them. Cantorna shares the wisdom she’s gained and teaches others about demolishing their internalized homophobia or transphobia, finding or building an affirming faith community, preparing to come out and coming out to loved ones, setting healthy boundaries, and coping with conditional love.
“LGBTQ Christians are desperate for guidance on how to navigate the unexpected journey of coming out,” Cantorna says. “They’ve been backed into a corner by religion, taught to be ashamed of who they are, and have lived in fear of being abandoned by both God and those they love if the truth about their identity leaks out. They want to live authentically, but they lack the needed resources to guide them.”
Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide to LGBTQ Christians is now available from Westminster John Knox Press and other major retailers.
Amber Cantorna is a national speaker, a columnist for Patheos, and the author of Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God. As a leader dedicated to supporting LGBTQ people throughout their coming-out process, Cantorna uses her platform to inspire others and works to dissolve shame, foster self-acceptance, and generate a message of love and inclusion for all.
-Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY (March 12th, 2019)
Advanced Praise for Unashamed
“Unashamed is a step-by-step guide to liberation, a manual for answering that holy call to stand in our own God-given skin and be exactly who we are.”
—Linda Kay Klein, author of PURE: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free
“Amber speaks with the wisdom of someone who has lived through the kind of shame only evangelicalism can impart. For those with the courage to let the world know who they are, Unashamed will guide you, lovingly and
competently, one step at a time.”
—Paula Stone Williams, Pastor, TED speaker, LGBTQ advocate
“Unashamed is the book I wish my child would have had when he came out. With practicality, compassion, and wisdom that comes from personal experience, Amber Cantorna broaches coming out in a way that no other
book has done.”
—Sara Cunningham, founder of Free Mom Hugs and author of How We Sleep at Night: A Mother’s Memoir
“Amber Cantorna beautifully radiates God’s love and hope for all God’s children as she masterfully weaves together helpful action steps and stories that are both informative and empowering. Unashamed is filled with golden nuggets of hope, healing, and truth. . . A must-read for everyone!”
—Jane Clementi, cofounder and CEO of the Tyler Clementi Foundation
“As the gay, closeted son of a Southern Baptist pastor, I didn’t think I’d ever come out. It was too scary. . . . I had no guidance, no resources, and very little confidence. I felt like the only person in the world who’d gone through this. Thanks to Amber Cantorna, no closeted Christian LGBTQ person should ever have to feel that way again.”
—B. T. Harman, creator of the blog and podcast Blue Babies Pink
“This is Amber Cantorna at her best! She takes the nitty-gritty experiences that every LGBTQ person of faith experiences and breaks them down in an incredibly accessible way. . . . Reading it feels like having a personal coach on all things LGBTQ and Christian. It’s just so good!”
—Candice Czubernat, founder and therapist at the Christian Closet
“Unashamed is a heartfelt, supportive resource for LGBTQ Christians finding their place in the church and in the world. I’m so glad Amber Cantorna created such a vital and important work.”
-Mike McHargue, host of Ask Science Mike and author of Finding God in the Waves
Updated on February 14, 2019
It was a snowy Saturday afternoon in Denver, Colorado, when I showed up to lead a workshop at the 2018 Q Christian Fellowship conference. Together with Susan Cottrell of FreedHearts, we led a sixty-minute session on “Navigating Life and Relationships with Non-Affirming Families.” Anticipating the need for a presentation on this topic, the conference team arranged for us to have the largest workshop room available. Just as they expected, when the doors opened, hundreds of people (in fact, one-third of the conference attendees) made their way in and packed out the room. This was my first indication that the topic of coming out to conservative families was tremendously underrepresented in the LGBTQ Christian community.
Susan and I planned to divide our hour of time into two parts. The first half hour would be spent discussing tools and tips for coming out, and the second half hour we would open it up for Q&A. We wanted to allow plenty of time to engage with the audience and address their concerns. But we were not prepared for the overwhelming need we were about to confront. As soon as we opened the floor for questions, a sea of hands immediately shot into the air. There was an audible gasp of shock and surprise that suctioned the oxygen from the room. I was stunned and a bit alarmed that the petition for questions was so vast. There was an obvious desire and need for these people to be heard.
For months, I’d received a steady stream of emails and Facebook messages from people seeking advice or wanting to share their story with me. It numbered in the hundreds. So yes, I knew there was a need to address this topic. But to witness it in such a tangible way and visibly see the lives that are being affected by rejection and pain in such startling numbers made one thing very apparent: LGBTQ Christians are desperate for guidance on how to navigate the unexpected journey of coming out. They’ve been backed into a corner by religion, taught to be ashamed of who they are, and lived in fear of being abandoned by both God and those they love if the truth about their identity leaks out. They want to live authentically, but they lack the needed resources to guide them. The books available to us thus far are limited to theological reconciliation. But the questions that arise about how to practically live out abound.
There was no way that Susan and I could begin to address all the questions people had in the room of our workshop that day. We picked a random hand out of the myriad of those raised and answered as many questions as we possibly could in that thirty-minute time frame. But we barely scratched the surface of the stories and questions represented. Following the session, we both stayed, offering to talk with anyone who still had a burning question they wanted to ask. Each person carried a story, a struggle they were up against in the face of coming out, and a desire to be seen. I wanted to stay all night and talk to each of them; I wanted to validate their journeys, stories, and struggles; I wanted them to know they weren’t alone; and more than anything, I wanted them to know that they had nothing to be ashamed of—that they could embrace and love the person that they are, because who they are is beautiful and reflects the very image of God. As the line wound down and the last person left for the night, I couldn’t help but think about how many people didn’t stay but still had unanswered questions lingering in their heart. Recognizing the magnitude of the need that day was what birthed [my upcoming book, Unashamed].
At first, I didn’t know if I was ready to write another book. Writing my first book (a memoir of my own coming-out journey) had taken an emotional toll on me, I was just winding down from a national book tour, and I had a few other projects I was hoping to accomplish before returning to writing. But I couldn’t ignore the request from so many people seeking guidance, nor the wind of God’s spirit speaking to my soul that this book needed to be written—now.
So this book (Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Christians) is my labor of love to each of you who identify as an LGBTQ person of faith. It is written to those of you who have lost your faith, to those of you who are desperately trying to hold onto your faith, and to those who of you who want to reclaim your faith.
It is written for each of you who have emailed or messaged me on social media and shared your coming-out story and the pain you have faced as a result. It is written for the preacher’s kid, the missionary kid, the church kid, the home-schooled kid, the “Adventures in Odyssey” kid, the bullied kid, and the kid who never quite knew how to fit in.
It is written for the outcast, the leper, the black sheep, and those of you who feel like you are somehow never quite enough.
It is written for the LGBTQ person who did everything you could to be the “perfect Christian,” who tried to pattern your life after the Focus on the Family model, who went through ex-gay therapy, conversion therapy, and psychological abuse, suppressing your sexual feelings and desires because you were told you had to conform to the literal interpretation of Scripture in order to be acceptable to God. It is written for those of you who were forced into celibacy or a marriage to a person of the opposite sex because someone convinced you that God required it of you.
It is written for those of you who are thinking about coming out, for those who are in the process of coming out, for those who have already come out, and for those who have previously come out but who ended up back in the closet again due to fear.
This book is for those of you who struggle with worthiness, who were told that setting boundaries was disrespectful, who believed the lie that God despises who you are, who carry suffocating shame about your identity, who feel terrified to be seen, and who feel so isolated in your struggle that you don’t know if you can live another day. This book is for you.
I want you to know that I see you. I see who you are. I see the struggles you face every day, the fear that overwhelms you, the pain that is so heavy it takes effort just to keep breathing. I see you.
Know that you do not walk alone, though at times it may feel lonely. Countless others out there are also trying to navigate this same path. Writing this book is also my way of journeying with each of you and doing what I can to give you a compass for your trail. My hope is that as you go through this book, you will discover another set of footprints as well and realize that God is also walking alongside you, and always has been. Have courage, my friend. Don’t let fear win. Come, let’s journey together and learn what it means to live unashamed.
(***Excerpted from Unashamed: A Coming-Out Guide for LGBTQ Chrisitans, © Amber Cantorna. Used by permission of Westminster John Knox Press.)
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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,