Redeeming What’s Been Lost

Wow. What an incredible experience the Gay Christian Network (GCN) conference was for me this past weekend. Traveling to Pittsburgh, PA last Tues, my wife and I both went with anticipation in our hearts.  This was not my first time attending a GCN conference, so knowing what it was like from previous experiences, my expectations were high. Thankfully, I did not return disappointed.

But first, let me give you a little background. I grew up in a musical family that performed frequently together from the time I was young. It was not uncommon during my growing up years for people to comment to me about my natural stage presence, my warm smile, or the way they saw/felt God through me. I never took that for granted. I always considered it an honor that God would use me to reveal his nature and presence to others.

But when I came out, I feared that was lost. I feared that perhaps God couldn’t shine through me the way he once did–that the presence and spirit of God once evident in my demeanor was now made void in light of my sexuality.

It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been involved in leading worship in any capacity. Even though I’ve only been out for the past five years, the five years previous to that, I was struggling. And I knew enough to know that if the church leaders knew I was “wrestling with same sex attraction” that my presence in leadership or on the worship team would no longer be welcome the way it was prior to that information. So I sat back…or shrank back. I put my talents on the back burner while the Enemy continually whispered into my ear that I was worthless and that God could never use me now. I was deemed untouchable, an abomination by these Christian standards.

I’ve been involved in music a small handful of times since coming out,  but they’ve all been in secular arenas. My deep heart for worship has continued to sit dormant–hoping and waiting that someday it would be invited back into the light.

And then that day came–the day that GCN began assembling the worship team for its 2017 conference. I was invited, along with a handful of other outcasts and misfits to pool our talents together and form a worship team for this year’s conference. To be honest, when I accepted the invitation, it was more out of recognition for the need of healing in my own heart than with a focus of ministering to others. Yet both those things took place in Pittsburgh this past weekend.

Gathering together with this incredibly talented group of musicians and artists who, like me, had been cast aside as something unusable in light of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we led over 1,400 people in worship throughout the weekend sessions. And it was powerful. Songs about redemption, songs about belonging, songs about the truly unconditional love of God drew us into a place many of us had not experienced in quite some time. I think it brought each of us on the worship team to tears at some point, if not multiple times during the weekend, to see God redeem something in us that we thought had long been lost.

We heard countless stories of the people in the audience that were touched as well. People that, for perhaps the first time were able to bring their whole selves before God in worship without the barrier of a message telling them they weren’t good enough or didn’t belong. One gentleman told me that, though he loved hearing the keynote speakers, the worship meant just as much if not more to him, because he hadn’t experienced a freedom like that in worship in such a long time.

Yes, God’s freedom and love were present and obvious.

And then came my own little miracle–my whisper from God to redeem an even deeper part of my soul.

Following one of our worship sets, a man came up to me and said, “I just want you to know how much I saw and felt God through you while you sang this morning. Your smile radiates the joy of the Lord and I could really sense God’s presence through your worship.”  Though I’m sure I’m paraphrasing his words, all I could hear was God whispering through him, “I’m still using you. Nothing that I’ve placed inside you has been lost. What you thought was nullified by coming out, will instead be the very thing that sets people free.”

And then I was reminded…that God chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and he chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong, and the lowly things of the world and the things which are despised those God has chosen, and things that are not–to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no one can boast in his presence. (1 Cor. 1:27-29)

It is His nature. It doesn’t change. God redeems every time.

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A Tiny Revolution: We Don’t Know What We’re Doing

Just before attending the Gay Christian Network conference this past week, my interview with Kevin Garcia in his podcast entitled, A Tiny Revolution was aired. I’m so honored to not only be interviewed by Kevin, but also to have the opportunity to lead worship with him at GCN this past weekend. More on that to come later this week! But for now, enjoy the podcast. My interview starts at Minute 26:00. 🙂

A Tiny Revolution Podcast: We Don’t Know What We Are Doing with Amber Cantorna

Is Everyone Agnostic?

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed by the Everyone’s Agnostic podcast. This was definitely not on the list of opportunities I foresaw for myself when going public with my story almost exactly one year ago. But doing this interview turned out to be an honor. In reality, I think there needs to be a little agnosticism inside each of us-the space of wonder and mystery where we are free and humble enough to say, “I don’t know.” Certainty leads to arrogance; a willingness to learn and grow, comes from humility.

I had a great conversation with these two men, and though there are things we disagree on, there are also things with which we share a very common belief and view. Doing this interview gave me the unique opportunity to talk to a group of people about the evolution of my faith, and why I’m still a Christian. The full interview just released this morning, and you can listen to it here.

Everyone’s Agnostic Podcast: Episode 131 with Amber Cantorna

 

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When You Lose It All- The CanCast

I was honored to be featured on this episode of The CanCast podcast with Candice Czubernat. We had fun recording this session a few weeks ago and it just released today. Audio on my mic isn’t the best, so turn it up and then enjoy the ride we take together! It’s a fun one 🙂

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“Mom, Dad, I’m Gay”

Last night, I was honored to hear I was the inspiration for this wonderfully written article by Peter Thurley, entitled “Mom, Day, I’m Gay”. I encourage you to give it a read. It is well done indeed.

“Mom, Dad, I’m Gay” by Peter Thurley

Big things are on the horizon and I covet your prayers as I walk through the process. When things are solidified, I will fill you in on all the details. Until then, stay strong in the faith.

God is good and faithful,

Amber

Honored to Be Featured in Another Blog

This morning I am humbled and honored at all the ways God is using my story to reach others across the nation and, in some instances, even around the globe. This blog is one I received last night from someone who heard my recent interview on Benjamin L. Corey’s podcast “That God Show”. It comes from Darrell Lucus at LiberalAmerica.org. You can read it here:

Focus on the Family Exec Had Own Daughter Thrown Out for Coming Out

If you missed the full podcast interview with Benjamin L. Corey and Matthew Paul Turner, you can click the link below to listen as well:

That God Show Podcast-Full Interview

Thanks to each of you who are helping to make my dream a reality by standing in the gap with me as we try to change the culture for LGBT Christians. Just a reminder that I am also booking speaking engagements for this calendar year. To book me for a conference, retreat, workshop, teen event, etc. please visit my Contact page where you can fill out a Booking Request Form and submit it to me via email.

Blessings to you all in the name of our wonderfully diverse God,

Amber

Focus on the Family Exec Shuns Gay Daughter: She Breaks Her Silence

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I am so honored to have been featured on Benjamin L. Corey’s blog this week and interviewed by him and Matthew Paul Turner for their most recent episode of That God Show. Read the article below:

Focus on the Family Exec Shuns Gay Daughter: She Breaks Her Silence

Or listen to the full interview by clicking this link:

Focus on the Family Exec Shuns Gay Daughter: She Breaks Her Silence-Full Interview

Bronco Beanies and Other Simple Joys

 

When my wife and I moved into our home this summer, we quickly had to come up with a new daily route to walk our pup. Walking for her is part of our daily routine so we promptly started roaming the neighborhood. As we tried several different routes and started getting one established, I frequently saw a young Hispanic man, approximately in his early 20’s walking what seems to be several miles. Often, we would pass him twice within our 1.5 mile route. He appeared to be out there for hours doing a slow steady walk with a 2 lb. weight in each hand. He was so quiet at first. Many times, we would pass one another on the sidewalk without even a hello, which was just…awkward. Other times, I would greet him but would only get an halfhearted “Hi” in response. Being new to the area, I’ll admit it wasn’t exactly the best first impression our neighborhood’s friendliness factor.

But then, within a few months time, something shifted. Fall time came and with it, football season. Suddenly this young man lit up like a light bulb inside. Clearly an avid Bronco’s fan, every time I would see him, he would have an enthusiastic comment ready. On the days following a win, I would get an excited, “Did you see the game? We won!” followed by statistics on where next week’s game would be held, who got injured or what his favorite play was. At times I couldn’t understand his broken English, but nonetheless, his excitement rang through loud and clear. Realizing over time that he seemed to have a bit of a intellectual disability, I worried what would happen when the (almost) inevitable moment would come that the Broncos would loose a game. But to my surprise, when that day did come, he simply said, “Oh well. We’ll win next week!” I smiled at his optimism.

Then after Christmas, I saw him proudly sporting a orange and blue set of Bronco mittens and a Bronco beanie. “Hey, I like your beanie!” I encouraged him. To which, he responded with his sweet child-likeness, “Yeah, I got them for Christmas!” Clear excitement was beaming on his face. It was in that moment that I was reminded of the simple joys and pleasures of life. How often in our ADD culture and success-driven society do we get wrapped up in our world of adult responsibility and forget to take time for those simple, quiet moments? So many opportunities for joy are missed merely because we are too busy to stop and acknowledge them. How much richer our lives could become if we would focus more on the “little thankfuls” in our life and less on the stress that comes from to-do lists.

My wife and I try to keep ourselves mindful of this in a practical way by using what we call our Blessings Jar. Each time something happens that feels like a little gift from God or we see an answer to prayer, we write it down, date it and put it in our Blessings Jar. Then, on Thanksgiving morning each year, we open it up and read through them to be reminded of all the times we’ve seen God’s presence evident throughout the year.

I’m saddened to say though, that the jar is often not near as full as I know it could be. So often I get so consumed in the mundane tasks of day to day life that I forget to pause and step away from them in order to notice the little things. But contentment doesn’t come in big, busy moments. When focused on success, we most likely we will always be chasing after the next big thing. Sadly, if that’s the case, no matter how much we achieve, I fear we’ll always come up feeling just a little empty, a little shy of goal and therefore will move on to chase after yet the next thing. Our life quickly then becomes like a merry-go-round, spinning in circles but never actually getting anywhere.

But, if we can find time for quiet moments, if we can find joy in the simple things, if we will take note of those “little thankfuls”, our lives will become so much richer, so much more fulfilling. In the little things of life is where true contentment lies.

And so I take a moment to quiet my soul and breathe this morning, reminding myself to find joy in the simple pleasures…like the beautiful blanket of snow currently keeping my whole family inside today, the comfort of a cup of hot tea next to the fireplace, the joy and contentment my puppies feel just to be near me, and yes, even a matching pair of mittens and a Bronco beanie.

Scandal, Mercy and Grace

Every once in awhile I enjoy using my creativity to imagine what some of the stories we read in the Bible must have really been like. For my blog this week, please enjoy my take on what this story of scandal and mercy must have been like for the adulterous woman who encountered Jesus…

The setting is ancient Israel…a riot takes over the crowd in the marketplace. Men in leadership, Pharisees, are leading in their pious way through the street, robes of dark crimson flowing as they make their way to the town square. Following quick behind them are more of the same, dragging a young, exposed woman for all to see. She was naked, her body completely bare, save for a thin sheet that was quickly thrust at her as they snatched her from her home. Taking the long way through town to the square, the Pharisees had it in their nature to publicly humiliate those “not as righteous as them” as much as they possibly could before reaching their destination. Doing so only exceeded the height of their status in other peoples eyes, or at least, so they thought. Arriving at the center of town, the girl was thrown to the gravel as those nearby began to make a mockery of the scene. All the woman could see were the dozens of sandaled feet covered in a reddish brown dirt several layers thick. She didn’t dare look up at the faces staring down at her. She didn’t want anyone to recognize her in this moment of such shear shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. Men threw jokes at her like dung in the face, as if to let her know that was all she was worth. Women looked on with compassion for the girl, while covering the virgin eyes of their young. Some of the voices she swore she recognized. Fighting back tears so as not to show weakness in the midst of an already unbearable moment, the woman kept her eyes unmoved on the ground before her.

Suddenly, a hush came over the crowd as a man walked through the mobs of people. Who he was, she did not know, only that his very presence held the power to silence a crowd. Using her long, dark brown hair to cover her face, she waited for what she knew could be the last few moments of her life. For at any moment, she knew she could be stoned for the accusations against her. Lying with a man other than your husband always carried a penalty of death. And now, she fear death awaited her.

The man that passed through the crowd seemed to be headed straight for her. Was he to be her first accuser? Stopping just short of her, he knelt to the ground and began to write in the dirt. Uneducated as she was, and unable to read or write, the woman could only wonder what it was that was being written. Her death sentence? A negotiation? A man in the crowd broke the silence with a rough tone and said, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law says we must stone such a woman. What do you say?” Teacher? This man was a teacher? The pieces slowly began to come together in her mind. Jesus! This is the man that so many had been speaking of! The one who made blind see and lame walk. Jesus. Could he help her? Would he help her? The moments that followed awaiting an answer were quiet enough to hear a piece of dirt scrape on the gravel as the man called Jesus knelt back down to write in the sand again. The few moments that followed felt like decades as the woman waited in anticipation for what was to come. Questions began to rise from the crowd, more vigorously now than before and Jesus answered them all with one convicting requirement… “Anyone who is without sin may cast the first stone at her.” All voices ceased. Without sin? Fists raised in anger began to drop to their sides, realizing they didn’t qualify. Stones ready for execution, held a moment longer as if some thought they might be exempt from the statement. Yet after a couple seconds, dropped one by one to the ground with a thud in the sand, breaking the heavy silence. Starting with the eldest of the group, wise enough to know their own sin, all the way down to the youngest standing, the crowd began to slowly disperse.

Still desperately afraid to raise her hazel eyes, the woman couldn’t help but feel relief as she heard each stone drop to the ground, each one releasing more of the breath she’d been holding. In just a few moments time, the accusers were gone, leaving only her and Jesus at the scene. He knelt to the ground once more, but this time not to write, but to gently lift her eyes to meet his. The moment they did, her heart was overcome. His eyes held such peace, such calm, such love. The tears she had earlier refused could no longer be held back, and she began to weep. With compassion Jesus asked, “They have all left, has no one condemned you?”

“No one sir” she replied with tears and disbelief.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus said. “Now go, and leave your life of sin.”
Written by Amber Cantorna
Copyright 2016

Amazing Love, Amazing Grace: Reflective Thoughts from My GCN Experience

     This past weekend, I attended the Gay Christian Network Conference for the second time, this year hosted in Houston, Texas. As my wife as I flew from Denver to Houston last Thursday, I reflected on the first time that I went to the conference 3 years ago and all that has happened in my life since then. I was in a very different place then, I had just come out and 2012 was the most turbulent year my life had seen yet. Having just looked death in the face (in more ways than one), I was turning a corner but not yet out of the woods. I came to Phoenix with a heavy heart searching for some hope that my life would get better. Thankfully, I found it. In a workshop I attended, a comment I made apparently perked some ears as I was later approached by a man and his wife who simply said, “Hi, my wife and I wondered if we could take you to dinner.” To which I was a little dumbfounded but replied, “…Ok!”
     That was the beginning of a turning of tides for me, and 2 years later because of the bond that was formed with them at GCN that weekend, they ended up being the ones who stood in my parent’s place at my wedding in June 2014. They helped me get ready and they walked me down the aisle to give me away. Though I didn’t know it when I met them, it turned out to be a divine connection.
     Now attending the conference this past weekend for the first time with my wife, my life is in a completely different place. Not only have I fallen in love, gotten married and purchased our first home together, but my life is finally positioned where I feel like I can do what God is calling me to do, and that is to be a voice.
One of the biggest take-aways I had from this past weekend is that, as the daughter of a executive employee at Focus on the Family who has lost everything since coming out, embedded in my identity is a responsibility to be a voice for those who can not yet speak. God is now using my story to catapult me into ministry and what an incredible ride it is turning out to be!
     This past weekend, I was privileged to have meetings with a myriad of amazing people who are already doing incredible work on the front lines of changing our culture when it comes to these issues of faith and sexuality. There were so many people in attendance at the conference who were living proof of the capability for intersectionality on these issues. That was so needed because there were an equal number of people in attendance who were looking for that proof.
     As we listened to Justin Lee’s keynote on Sunday morning where he talked about privilege and our need to be empathetic rather than sympathetic, I was reminded once again how much the way we interact with one another matters. How much respect matters. How much dignity matters. And how incredibly vital spaces like GCN are, not only for LGBT people, but for parents of LGBT kids and our straight allies as well. GCN is one of the only spaces I know of where people can come from all over the world, from every denominational background imaginable and from differing views and beliefs when it comes to Side A/Side B theology and agree to disagree in a safe space where we can love one another well. That my friends, is true love; unconditional love; amazing love.
     At the end of Mary Lambert’s concert Friday night, she performed her Grammy-nominated song “Same Love” inviting all who wanted, to join her in dancing together in the empty space below the stage. As I slow danced with my wife, tears streamed down my face in a place where our love for one another was validated and we were safe to be our real selves among 1,450 likeminded people. It was one of my favorite moments of the weekend.
     Similarly in the worship sessions led before each keynote speech, I stood there and cried as well because for the first time in 8 years, I was able to stand before God with my worshipper’s heart freely before Him without feeling the stare of disapproving eyes around me or the lurking feeling in my heart of, “If they only knew…” as if being gay somehow disqualified me from standing in church. But here, I was able to unashamedly with a room full of other LGBT believers, parents and allies sing:
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood, His mercy reigns
Unending Love, Amazing Grace
     Amazing Grace indeed. That is what this journey requires of us…amazing grace from God because of our humanity, amazing grace for each other especially when we have differing viewpoints and amazing grace for ourselves to see the beauty inside us and to celebrate that which makes us unique.
     It is that same amazing grace and love that will in turn change our church culture if we, like Jesus, can love our neighbor and let the light placed inside each of our hearts shine brightly for all to see.