“DID YOU NOT KNOW WHAT THE HOLY ONE CAN DO WITH DUST?”
These words have been sitting on the ground of my soul for the past week. I can’t shake them or the power they hold to resonate so deeply within me.
It’s been 5 years since I’ve attended an Ash Wednesday service. Lent was frequently observed in our household growing up; but as an adult, there have been some years that I’ve chosen to observe Lent and others that I haven’t. Some years, because of my religious background, the pressure to conform to a custom simply for the sake of ritual (or to me, what feels like “measuring up”) has felt too cumbersome. Other years it has felt inviting, like an anchor that grounds me or gives me direction in life. Some years I have given something up, while other years I have added something to my life for that season.
This year was the first time that my wife and I attended an Ash Wednesday service together. At first I thought I was going more for her than for me. I had experienced this tradition before, she had not. But entering the silent sanctuary of our church, I realized I was wrong. I needed to be in this space. Sitting in quiet reflection in a room lit only with candles, those small flames felt like beacons of hope. There was a peace present that my heart had been craving. I tried hard to slow my breathing and ground myself in the silence and calm provided. We were led through a time of reflection, a time of reverent worship, and an explanation of the significance of this tradition before then receiving the ashes.
In years past, I’ve heard phrases like, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return” spoken as a solemn reminder of our humanity. But this year, I heard something different. This year, I heard a poem by Jan Richardson that was more than a depressing reminder of how mortal we are. Instead, it was a breath of life that reminded us what God can do with us mere mortals.
The phrase Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? struck me and my eyes welled with tears. It was like God breathing life into me, just like he did all those years ago when he created Adam, the very first man. Going forward to receive the ashes, a fellow congregant cupped my head in her hands, locked eyes with me, and said, “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”
I couldn’t contain my tears. So much of my life has felt marked by sorrow and shame and loss. So many hopes tainted by the dust of life, by common humanity, by mortality, by choices of selfish ambition, or even good intentions gone wrong. And yet…and yet, we forget what God, the Holy One, can do with dust. We underestimate his power to redeem and make beauty from the ashes. We forget that God is good and that he loves to meet us when we are at our lowest, and rescue and redeem and reclaim all that has been lost.
One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees, catching her in the act, took her and threw her down in the dirt in front of a crowd for public ridicule. Yet Jesus, instead of condemning her the way the Pharisees expected, got down next to her in the dirt and wrote something in the dust that remains a mystery to us, yet clearly brought life and healing to this embarrassed woman.
Sometimes sitting in the dust of our humanity is the best place to be. It is humbling. It is authentic. It is honest and God meets us there.
If I could see you face to face today, I would cup your face in my hands and gently ask you, “Did you not know what the Holy One could do with dust?”
Updated on January 26, 2018
Hello Dear Friends!
Greetings post GCN/QCF conference! For those of you who weren’t there, the Gay Christian Network (as of this last week) has officially been renamed Q Christian Fellowship and we just finished a fantastic weekend together in Denver, CO! Thank you to each one who joined us, who visited me at my exhibit booth, who came to my workshop with Susan Cottrell, and who stopped me in the hall to share your story with me. It was truly and honor to meet each of you and allow our life stories to intersect. A few things I want you all to know:
- If you came to my workshop on “Navigating Life and Relationships with Non-Affirming Parents”, thank you! I realize 60 minutes was not nearly enough to delve deeply into all the things on your hearts and I have already informed the powers that be that this workshop needs a 90 minute slot next year. There were so many questions that I know we didn’t get to and I want you to know that I value each of your journeys and hearts right where they are right now. If you are one of the many people who did not get your question answered at the breakout, don’t panic, because….
- You can still have a voice! I am already working on some new resources around this topic of navigating your way out of the closet as a gay Christian, especially for those of us who come from conservative Christian backgrounds. Tools and resources on this subject are clearly needed and I am working to get them to you. So if you have thoughts, feelings, or questions you would like to be taken into consideration as I assemble the data for these resources, please take a minute to complete this brief 5 question survey. I would SO value your input!
- If you did NOT make it to the workshop, but still want to take it in, we now have it available on video to watch and share with your friends! You can view it by clicking the link below!
4. If you did not get a chance to purchase a copy of Refocusing My Family, you can do that on Amazon by clicking HERE.
5. Finally, if you want a direct link to the Resources that I mentioned during the workshop, you can access them by clicking this link. If you want the downloadable version, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Thank you all again so much for joining us this past weekend. I truly had a wonderful time meeting so many of you and really hope you will take just a few minutes to answer the survey. You voice is welcomed and wanted even if you did not attend QCF!
Take care and know each of you are dearly loved!
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
P.S. If you want to see the TV interview that I recently did with PBS while I was in NYC, you can watch it now by clicking here!
I grew up in a very certain world. My dad worked in a prominent position at Focus on the Family and my mom was both the homemaker and the primary home-school teacher to my brother and I. My dad was home by 5:15pm every night and my mom always had dinner on the table. My mornings started with family devotions over breakfast at 7am and ended with family dinners that often included Scripture memory. Church was on Sunday mornings and Awana’s on Wednesday night. I had the coveted Christian upbringing and the epitome of a “godly family.” Life was scheduled, predictable, and safe.
But this certainty came with a pricetag. Our list of rules and regulations of how to live and love others caused us to not only exist within a very confined space but it also forced us to wear a façade. The tiniest bit of doubt or unbelief was seen as weakness. Although it wasn’t overtly stated, the underlying belief was that if you had enough faith and trusted God enough, you should have your shit together. But of course, no one really has all their shit together, so instead, we just pretended like we did. We hid the broken pieces of our lives behind a happy smile or a “I’m blessed” response when asked how we were doing. If people didn’t see our mess, then hypothetically, it didn’t exist.
While causing us to hide our true selves, this also caused a level of judgment when it came to our fellow believers. If they were going through a difficult time or experiencing hardship, we first, took pity on them, and second, concluded that it was most likely due to a lack of faith (aka certainty). We then committed to praying for them. So in essence, we had this Christian thing figured out and they were still working on getting it figured out. See where I’m heading?
Everything was black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. We had all the answers. We were certain. It was so easy to judge the lives of others, so easy to point a finger or make an accusation with these “right” and “wrong” tools we possessed.
It was easy, until that person experiencing hardship became you.
Then when something unexpected happens in your life (a diagnosis, the loss of a child, a divorce, or the discovery of an LGBT identity), you suddenly begin to see things very differently.
At first, we often put ourselves under the same scrutiny that we would for others.
What did I do wrong?
Why can’t I fix this?
Maybe I really don’t have enough faith.
I promise I’ll try harder God, if only (fill in the blank).
We beg and we bargain with God to take away the pain so our certain and sure footing can be restored.
But we’ve completely missed the point.
A belief system based on certainty doesn’t really require any faith at all! If we have everything figured out, if we have all the answers, what do we need faith for?
Faith and certainty aren’t intended to mix as we so often do with them in Christian circles. Faith is awe and mystery, questioning and wondering, room to breathe and room for the unknown. Faith is belief in the absence of certainty. That is true faith. That is true dependence on God.
Before I came out as gay, I thought I had most the answers. I’d admit I didn’t know everything, but I was pretty comfortable inside my box and the box I had put God in. Stepping out into my true identity and embracing myself for who God made me to be, now that required faith. I knew coming out could have a price tag. I knew it would be questioned among my family and peers. I knew it could potentially cost me everything. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that it actually would.
Losing absolutely everything (my family, my relatives, my friend, my church, my hometown) required faith unlike anything I’d ever known. I was completely and utterly dependent on God to survive, to pull me through, and to provide for me. I had nothing. I lost it all in the face of authenticity. Suddenly, I didn’t have it all as together as I thought.
Not having it all together, not having all the answers, not knowing what the future held, yet taking each step forward as God asked it of me, took more faith than anything I’d ever faced before.
People sometimes ask me, “How do you know with 100% certainty that God approves of you sexuality and marriage to your wife,” and I say, “I don’t. Not anymore than you are 100% certain that God approves of your sexuality (gay or straight) and your marriage to your wife/husband.” I’m relying on faith. True faith that leads me to complete reliance on the fact that God is loving and good, and he doesn’t make mistakes. And faith in the belief that good trees produce good fruits and that is what I am seeing in my life today.
I would never return to the life of certainty I once led, even though it was far more comfortable. Faith may require discomfort and being stretched outside my box, but it has also led me to a much deeper, richer, and more fulfilling life. I am more happy, more free, and more complete now than I’ve ever been because I choose daily to let go of certainty, and walk and live in faith.
Will you join me?
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
This week, I’m featuring a guest blog by Austin Pierce. Austin is passionate about discovering what it means to bridge the gap between two seemingly opposing communities: being gay and being Christian. In this guest blog, Austin talks about sexual ethics and what he’s learned and come to value in regards to sexual purity. Give it a read…
About five years ago, I was introduced to this term: “Purity Culture.” You may or may not have seen the phrase that describes a segment of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s characterized by the Christian church’s emphasis on sexual ethics and boundaries for marriage. Chances are, if you heard the term, it wasn’t in a positive context.
For me, this idea of sexual purity seemed like a noble pursuit, but would later be recognized as a shame-based ideology that hindered many Christians as they got older. When I first heard the term, I didn’t feel like it had much bearing on me growing up. I had friends whose parents revered the Christian best-seller “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” a book-length manifesto about dating authored by a then 21-year-old virgin. Fortunately, my parents didn’t embrace the book and these circles of thought, so I felt unaffected by Purity Culture’s ideology. Or at least it seemed so.
During my last two years of college, I had my own apartment. One day when I was leaving for class, I heard the loudest scream I’d ever heard. Panicked, I walked out onto my porch to see what was wrong and I saw five police cars in the parking lot. Knowing I’d be late for class, I sat down in my chair to see what was going on. Moments later I saw a hysterical mother make her way to the stairwell of my building. She sat there, screaming at the top of her lungs in anger and sadness—her son was found dead in his apartment.
With the grieving mother now blocking my way down the stairs to my car, I sat frozen in my chair listening to this lady process the first hour of life without her adult child. I looked down on the floor at my backpack and realized that I was about to leave for a typical day at class, while this lady’s life will never be the same again. It was hard to wrap my head around—the pain this woman was experiencing. I looked around the complex that day, confused, because it felt just like a normal day. Within an instant, this mother’s entire world was destroyed. A perfectly sunny autumn day cloaked in a tangible, invisible, painful darkness. It was terribly confusing, but too familiar just the same—I had felt this similar feeling once before.
It was another perfectly sunny Phoenician day. I remember leaving his apartment and driving up the 101 thinking, “What did I just do? I promised myself I would never do this until I was married…to a woman, nevertheless.” I had just slept with a guy for the first time. It wasn’t who I was supposed to be—I wasn’t supposed to have ever just hooked up anyone, let alone a guy!
I felt darkness. I felt nothing.
The same feelings of darkness that surrounded that mother in grief surrounded me that afternoon as I drove home reflecting on what I had just done—the most inconceivable thing that I promised myself I would never do. While everyone driving past me was having another mundane afternoon, I felt destroyed inside.
It was here where the idea of Purity Culture waged its war on my heart.
I would never be the same. My sexuality was officially sealed inside my heart through this hook-up and I had officially done the irreversible thing. God wouldn’t change this. God was angry with this. He was angry at my interest in pornography, He was hated me because I like guys, but He was officially done with me now that I had taken this step into the fire.
Eventually, my heart would grow numb from the shame. I would give up on caring about this portion of my life, as I went through swelling phases of hooking up and sexual stupidity. After all, I had already ruined myself, so there wasn’t any going back, right? Even as I type this, I can clearly hear the voice of God, through His knowing laughter saying, “You really had no idea what I was capable of back then, Austin!”
The shame of my lifestyle was perpetually destroying me inside. The shame’s voice was the collective sound of my youth pastor and various retreat speakers telling me that virginity was non-refundable, that sex was irreplaceable, and misuse of sex was detrimental. These thoughts were torturing my ability to connect with God, as if He didn’t have His hands on this portion of my life. I hid sex from Him, as if He had no bearing on it.
I’ve read many stories like mine, many of which come to the conclusion that Purity Culture was of Satan and that none of its constructs should be valued or upheld today. As I reflect on this, I’m not sure it’s all to be thrown to the side.
During my phase of attempting to hide sex from God and instead of embracing the religious backing for Biblical sexual ethics, I frequently read and re-read pop psychology research that discussed the various stresses and pains that are caused by sexual deviance. There was non-religious research to prove that pornography is actually changing people physiologically, affecting their ability to engage in healthy sex. There was empirical data to show that sex outside of marriage statistically reduces the longevity of marriages. It was in this research, that I began to see the practical truth to the traditional sexual ethics that I was taught.
It still has me wondering why my Sunday school teachers didn’t lead with this type of research?
It was absolutely fascinating to see that secular culture was discovering the value of these seemingly conservative sexual ethics. Purity Culture in practice may have been shame-producing and damaging to thousands of Christians like myself, but seeing the secular statistics of it, I can now see that its intentions were mostly pure (pun intended).
None of this ever became more important than when I met the guy who would be my future husband. As we started the first month of our relationship, we had a choice to make. We had to decide if we were going to honor the sexual ethics we grew up with or if were we going to honor our personal desires on sex. Without much of a struggle, we chose not to have any sort of sex while we were dating. At the time, same-sex marriage wasn’t legal, so I knew we’d have to figure that part out if our relationship were to progress, but in the meantime, we chose to yield to the sexual ethics we were raised under.
Frankly speaking, I wasn’t convinced that honoring sexual ethics would make any difference since we’d already overlooked them in previous relationships, but I figured it was worth a shot. Fortunately, we were wrong, and the overwhelming message of Purity Culture was wrong: God can renew us.
In our dating and engagement phase, we saw the power of bypassing the physical for a chance at emotional connection. A dear friend of mine described abstaining within a relationship as, “…a chance to channel our sexual desire into creative ways to emotionally connect.” I’m sure some pastors wouldn’t like me saying this, but we were familiar enough with sex that we had a firm understanding of what we weren’t doing.
It was beautiful to experience restoration. It wasn’t as if my past was scrubbed clean. We brought the inherent baggage into our relationship—baggage that would not have been there had each of us not had sexual pasts. But God didn’t shame me for my past. He didn’t give up on me because I failed to honor Him in years past. The start of our relationship was where God showed me that He revels in His ability to restore me.
I’m not sure that’s something Purity Culture could have ever taught me.
Since I’ve been back home the last few weeks, people have been asking for stories from the road of the Refocusing My Family tour. While I’ve loved all the people I’ve met and each unique story I’ve heard, one of my favorite stories so far comes from a trip I took in mid-November.
As a young girl, I was part of a girls group we fondly called the Green Gable Girls (a reflection of our favorite story, Anne of Green Gables). It started when I was in the second grade and continued all the way until I graduated high school. Over time, I have lost touch with a number of those girls for varying reasons, but since coming out, I’ve been able to rekindle a healthy adult relationship with three of them who have all been supportive of my relationship with my wife.
One of these girls and I didn’t reconnect until after my wife and I got married, but we had the honor of attending her wedding in the fall of 2016. While at the wedding, I saw my friend’s parents (who were close family friends growing up) for the first time since coming out. They’ve been nothing but kind to both Clara and I since getting reconnected and at the wedding, her dad even admitted through misty eyes, “I don’t understand, but I love you.” That right there opened the door for deeper conversation, and so, the rekindling of a friendship with them began.
We live in different states, so the start of our renewed relationship mostly happened via Facebook as we got acquainted with where each other was in life. But when when I booked a tour stop in their hometown, they offered to let me stay with them, and I accepted. I had no idea how healing that weekend was going to end up being, both for them and for me. In the week leading up to my visit, they wrote me and said, “We read your book and it has completely changed our mind on LGBT people and the church.”
Nothing could have been more encouraging or validating than hearing those words from someone who was a part of my former life and was acquainted with the world in which I grew up.
In the couple short days we had together, we spent many hours in deep, rich conversation about life and faith, we asked questions, we began catching up on the many years of life we’d been out of touch for, and they lent their support by attending both my events in the area that weekend. For me, this is my favorite tour story so far.
To see a couple of family friends from my youth become allies in my adult life, has perhaps been one of the most redeeming and rewarding moments for me since this journey began.
I’ve heard many powerful stories of how my book has changed people’s lives and families, and each one has touched my heart, but because this story is so personal to me and the journey I’ve walked, it has made it that much more healing for my soul.
I don’t have many stories like this, so for me, it was a bit of a Christmas miracle.
2017 has divided our country and its people in so very many ways. So many families torn because they stand on opposite political parties and so many harmful things done in the name of what’s “right” and “godly.” We need more redemptive stories like this one I’ve written about here. We need more relationships restored and more hearts healed.
But while we work (and sometimes wait) for those to happen, let me leave you with the inspiring words of this Christmas hymn…
This last Monday, I watched The Voice finale as each of the finalists gave stunning performances. But when Brooke Simpson sang “O Holy Night,” the lyrics to the second verse grabbed my heart and anchored me with a fresh dose of hope. The words reflected a much more accurate view of who I believe Jesus is and what the gospel represents (or should represent) in our world today:
Truly, he taught us
To love one another
His law is love
And his gospel is peace
Chains shall he break
For the slave is our brother
And in his name
All oppression shall cease
Oh how our world needs this kind of hope: a hope where the message that we speak is one of peace (not distension), where the law of our lives is love, and where all oppression ceases as a result of our radical and Christ-like inclusion of one another.
And so as we go into the Christmas weekend, may the lyrics to that verse anchor your heart as well, and may the miracle of Christmas through Christ’s birth make its way even deeper into our everyday lives in the coming year.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
*To see Brooke’s performance of O Holy Night on The Voice finale, click HERE.
As this year nears its end and we enter into the Christmas weekend, I wanted to take just a few minutes to tell you about what we’ve accomplished in 2017. Since the release of Refocusing My Family in October, we have traveled 9,714 miles, and conducted 15 Refocusing My Family speaking events in over 12 cities nation-wide.
During our travels, one thing has become very clear: this story needs to be told. Between the people we’ve met on tour at our events and the hundreds of emails, Facebook messages, and friend requests I’ve received, I’ve heard a lot of personal stories. Many of them are stories of heartbreak, of feared rejection, or of a desperate need for hope.
We’ve even had people travel as far as 4 hours to attend one of our events because they were so desperate to meet someone like them and find a beacon of hope to cling to.
Here’s what just a few people are saying about Refocusing My Family:
“Reading “Refocusing My Family” has changed my life and helped me better understand my child. I don’t feel so alone on this path now.” –Julie T.
“Never have I read a book that brought me so much hope before. Reading Amber’s story, and coming into the realization that there’s someone else out there who gets what I’ve gone through, was such an amazing experience.” –Anonymous reader
“I read this book without putting it down. This is a must read!” –Cynthia S.
“This book made me feel less alone. It made me see that it is indeed possible to love both God and my wife. This story will without a doubt save people’s lives when they need hope most.” –Anonymous reader
“I was captivated from the first page. The life story that Amber shares will challenge some and encourage others. It is a story of faith, loss, restoration, and perseverance. It’s an inside look into the experiences and thought processes of one in the midst of their own personal coming out story. A must-read for allies and LGBT people alike!” –Christina
“This is one of the best books I have read on the subject of LGBTQ. It truly does resonate with me and so many others that understand where Amber has come from. I highly recommend this book.” –Mother of LGBT child
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! As a former Christian and homeschooler myself, reading about your experience was real and powerful.” –Anonymous reader
This is why we do what we do. We do it to make people feel less isolated in their journey, to let them know they are fully loved by God just as they are, and to provide them, not only with a story to relate to, but a beacon of hope to which they can cling as they also work to reconcile their faith with their sexuality.
Yet there are still so many people who need to hear this message. People have written from Canada, from France, from Australia, and from Greenland.
It’s evident that the need for this message is universal.
We currently have 10 additional tour events booked for early 2018, but are receiving requests from readers come to places like Texas (specifically Houston and Dallas), and Atlanta, as well as requests to add more New England, southern, and mid-western states. We want to be able to reach all of these regions with this message of hope and love and would also love to expand our tour to include Canada this year as well.
But we need people like you to partner with us in order to make this happen. We need people who are willing to plant seeds now, so that trees of life will grow this spring. Your financial partnership through a year-end gift can and will be cultivated to produce beautiful fruits of life, hope, peace, joy, and love in 2018. There are so many people whose hearts are hungry for these fruits of life.
So we are asking you to prayerfully consider sowing into the orchard of Beyond this season by making a tax-deductible year-end gift. We know the holidays are busy and that there are many worthy causes asking for your resources, but we would be honored if you would choose us as your year-end non-profit to which you contribute. We can only plant so many trees on our own, but together, we can produce an orchard that will change the way LGBT people experience love and help them embrace life to the fullest.
Whether your gift is $5, or $50, or $500, or $5,000 we thank each and every one of you in advance for your help in planting these seeds so that LGBT people of faith can have life. The holidays can be such a hard time for so very many LGBT people, but your generous gift could bring them hope in the New Year.
Merry Christmas to each of you!
Because LOVE makes all the difference,
Updated on December 17, 2017
Dear Family and Friends,
Holiday Greetings from The Cantorna Clan! Wow, what a year it has been! 2017 has flown by for us and it is hard to believe it is already coming to a close.
AMBER’s book, Refocusing My Family, released on October 1st and so far, has been very well received! She’s spoken 15 times and traveled almost 10,000 miles in the last 8 weeks to share her story with people all over the country and spread a message of hope and love to LGBTQ people and their families. She’s spoken at universities, churches, and bookstores meeting many amazing people from all walks of life in the process. She’s taking a break for the holiday season to physically and emotionally recharge, but looks forward to resuming her travel after the new year, starting with Brooklyn, NY and Nashville, TN. You can learn more about where she will be speaking in 2018 at AmberCantorna.com/events. Considering the amount of travel we’ve undertaken, we are pleased with how well Amber’s health has held up. She continues to undergo prolotherapy treatments every 4-6 weeks but has just been presented with a new treatment option that she is considering for 2018. While her pain continues to still be a daily challenge, we’ve learned a lot about how to manage it better than we previously did and for that, we are very grateful.
LITTLE ANNE gave us quite the scare this year though when she came down very sick in late September. She ran a high fever, refusing to eat for days. Meanwhile, her white blood cell count doubled in a week, yet every test we ran came back negative. With two very worried mommies, she was in and out of a specialty hospital for 10 days until we finally decided to bring her home, though we were still unsure of what was wrong or if she was going to pull through. We were so very grateful when she finally turned the corner and the administered medicine caused her mystery illness to dissipate. She has regained full strength and spunk, though because of the lack of diagnosis, her mommies continue to watch her closely! We’re so thankful that she pulled through and that we have our baby back. She adds so much life to our family and our world wouldn’t be the same without her!
CLARA continues to work for the Colorado Army National Guard and is coming up on her 25-year mark. Her contract is currently up for renewal and we are praying for just one more year so she can reach her goal of retirement. Many people have asked what is next for us once she leaves the Army and in all honesty, we are still unsure. We have several options on the table that we are considering, but are keeping our hearts open to see where God leads us. Work has been very stressful for Clara this year running a shop with such a small staff and she looks forward to the day she can slow down a bit and not carry so much responsibility. However, she has been very supportive of Amber’s book tour and has traveled with her to as many events as possible, which has created many fun memories and special moments for us both to share.
HALF PINT has had a great year traveling as a service dog with Mommy. She flew on an airplane for the very first time and did just fabulous! She loved sitting on mommy’s lap and looking out the window and wasn’t scared a bit. She’s become quite the experienced travel dog, has brought lots of smiles everywhere she’s gone, and has even stolen the show a time or two.J She continues to love and support Mommy on this journey and does so with pride.
We are thankful for all those we have met, the places we’ve seen, and the experiences we’ve had this year. Even in the challenging moments, we’ve had much to be grateful for, including the blessing of each of you in our lives. We hold you dear to our hearts and are thankful for your support and love which lend us strength. We pray peace, comfort, and a deep inner joy for each of you this holiday season and hope you drop us a note to tell us how you’re doing when you have the chance!
Much love to each of you this holiday season,
The Cantorna Clan
Amber, Clara, Half Pint, and Little Anne
Updated 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,
Hello My Friends!
I am writing you on a brief break from home in between touring and travels. We have had a very exciting series of events over the last couple weeks as we’ve traveled from State College, PA to Washington D.C. to Raleigh, NC and then on to Salt Lake City and Phoenix! It’s been a wild ride but such an exciting time to see how Refocusing My Family is touching hearts and changing lives.
We’ve heard so many encouraging comments as we’ve met people across the country who have read the book. The most common comments we hear are, “I couldn’t put it down!” and “I felt like I was reading my own life!” which are both exactly what we were hoping to hear. We’ve also heard from a therapist that reading this book completely changed the way she approaches counseling with her LGBTQ clients, and from another Christian couple, that this book has completely changed their views on LGBTQ issues! All these things are so very exciting to hear after so many months planning, writing, and working to bring this into fruition.
I was very blessed to be home for Thanksgiving this past week and have a bit of a break after speaking 7 times in 9 days. Whew! We have two more events this week (Boulder, CO and Cheyenne, WY) but will then be taking a break during the holidays and will touring again after the new year. I’m looking forward to some time at home with my family, recovering from all the travel and recharging for this next tour season.
Many of you have been very kind to ask how my health has been through all my travels and I am very grateful to say that my body and its chronic health issues have done quite well, considering all the travel I have done in such a short amount of time. There have been some harder days here and there, but my pain has not spiraled out of control like I feared it might, and for that I am VERY thankful. I will have prolotherapy this coming Friday immediately after finishing my event in Cheyenne, WY on Thursday night and plan to recover through the weekend. But with the amount of travel I have done between my last prolo treatment and this one, I am really quite pleased overall.
Many of you have also asked if Clara has been traveling with me, and for the most part, the answer has been yes! We’ve been able to book a lot of our tour dates around her work schedule so that she has been able to come. She was not able to make it to my Salt Lake City and Phoenix stops this last
weekend, but I had my other little helper, Half Pint with me instead! She got to fly on an airplane for the very first time and did SO very well. We flew on 3 airplane rides in 4 days and she was a star. Not an ounce of nervousness or fear and she sat on mommy’s lap and flew like a champ. The attached picture is of her on her first airplane ride to Salt Lake City.
There is so much more that I want to write to you all about including the meaningful conversations that have and are taking place on the road with the people I meet, the hearts and lives that are being changed and becoming affirming of LGBTQ believers, as well as what God is showing me and teaching me through it all. And I promise I will write you more soon! But at least for the next couple days, I am still trying to catch up, rest up, and make sure these last two events of the year are as powerful and dynamic as possible.
So I will leave you with this for now…tomorrow is Giving Tuesday.
And while I know that there are SO many amazing and very worthy causes out there that you could choose to invest your resources in, I’d like you to consider giving a gift to Beyond.
As I travel and speak and meet people all across the country, I am more convinced than ever that this is a message that needs to be heard. People have driven as far as 4 hours to attend a Refocusing My Family event because they are so desperate to hear a story they can relate to and so desperate to know if God does indeed still love them.
So many LGBTQ people are still wrestling in the closet of conservative faith communities, afraid to come out because of what it might cost them. Oh how I long for the day when that is no longer the case, and stories like mine no longer need to be told. But we are not there yet.
So I’m asking you to consider partnering with us so that we can continue sharing this message of hope and love to LGBTQ people of faith and their loved ones. The holidays can be hard for many people, but for LGBTQ Christians who haven’t yet been able to reconcile their faith with their sexuality, the isolation and divisiveness they often feel can completely overwhelm them. There are LGBTQ people who, right now, are considering taking their own lives, because the holiday season seems like more than they can bear. Your gift, your financial contribution, could bring them hope and help save their life this Christmas.
So whatever you can do, whether that is a little or whether that is a lot, please visit our website and make a donation today. Each and every little bit makes a difference in the life of someone who is desperate for hope that it will get better, who’s desperate for peace to be able to be who they are, and who’s desperate to know deep in their soul just how wide and long and high and deep the love of God really is. And isn’t that exactly what Christmas is all about?
Remember…your love could make all the difference.
Let’s be difference makers.
With all my love,
We are excited to announce that we have just added Washington DC to our tour schedule for next weekend! Because it is coming up so quickly, we would really appreciate your help in spreading the word. Sharing about it on social media as well as telling your friends/family in the DC area are both so appreciated. Together we can help spread the message that LOVE makes all the difference!
You can use the graphic below to share with your friends, or you can help by sharing the Facebook Event of it HERE.
Also, there’s a couple new radio interviews and podcasts that have released this past week that you can listen to by visiting the “Interviews” tab of my website.
Finally, we are so excited about the stories we are hearing from people all over the world that are reading Refocusing My Family. Many are finding hope for the very first time. Thank you for what each of you are doing to help spread the word through sharing the book with others, writing Amazon reviews, and sending words of encouragement my way. I do read every one of them and am so grateful for all of you who are helping in different ways.
We are getting requests from people to add additional tour locations in places like Houston, along the east coast, and even Canada. There are still so many people who need to hear this message of hope and love. But we can’t do it without your help. That’s why we are asking you to prayerfully consider partnering with us in spreading this message to LGBTQ people and their loved ones this season. Every gift, whether one time or on a monthly basis, helps make a difference in someone’s life who is wrestling (often in isolation) to reconcile their faith with their sexuality and feel fully loved by God.
If you are willing to partner with us as we continue in this mission, please visit our Donate tab. Your donation could help save someone’s life who is contemplating suicide, help someone feel less isolated and find community, or help a Christian parent of an LGBTQ child embrace and love them fully for the very first time. Together we can make a difference and create a more loving place for us all to live.
So please consider partnering with us, and don’t forget to spread the word with your family/friends about our event in D.C. next weekend! I’m so grateful for each of you and pray that as you continue on in your journey, you will know that you are beautiful and loved by God just as you are and feel the awe and wonder that comes with knowing you are fully included in the kingdom of God.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,