Privilege and Perspective

For most of my growing up years, I was privileged. I didn’t know it at the time, but the privileged rarely do. I grew up a white, middle class female in a Christian home. I knew the label of “Christian” set me apart–my mom told me so often. But labels like cisgender/transgender or gay/straight were not yet part of my vocabulary or understanding.

It wasn’t until I was in my 20’s that I realized I was gay. That instantly separated me from the conservative, fundamental, Christian upbringing I’d been a part of. I was suddenly “less than” in their eyes. I quickly found out what it was like to live as part of a marginalized group when I lost everything–literally everything (my family, relatives, friends, church, hometown)–to live as my authentic self.

The rejection and exclusion I experienced after coming out heightened my awareness of other ostracized groups that previously I’d been oblivious to. Muslims, refugees, people of color, transgender people, immigrants, those in poverty…these are the people who are most often forgotten, overlooked, and ignored.

My wife is a first generation immigrant, a person of color, a gay woman, a Christian, and she’s served in the army for over 20 years. She checks a lot of boxes on the minorities list. My relationship with her has further risen my awareness of privilege (or lack thereof) and talk of minority groups is now a frequent conversation in our home.

Then, three and a half years ago, I unexpectedly joined another minority group: the disabled. During a routine adjustment, I was injured by a chiropractor and it has forever altered my life. For 18 months, I got passed from doctor to doctor, I was misdiagnosed, I had multiple MRIs and CAT scans, and I was told my pain was psychosomatic. All the while, my mobility consistently decreased.

At first I noticed it in my workouts, then I started walking with a limp, then I struggled to make it up stairs, and eventually, I couldn’t even get myself out of bed. My muscles and ligaments completely gave out and could no longer support the weight of my body .

After much searching, we finally found a phenomenal osteopathic/sports medicine doctor  who knew exactly what was wrong and helped me execute a plan to recovery. Though it’s taken much longer than I ever expected, he’s faithfully walked that road with me now for 2 years. With a treatment called prolotherapy, we’ve slowly re-grown new ligaments in my body that have given me much of my autonomy back.

But it’s still not easy. I’m still in treatment every 8 weeks, which is a big improvement from every 2 weeks, but still puts me in bed on ice for 3-4 days after every round of injections. I’m still limited in what I can do, and I’ll never be 100% again. Much of my functionality has returned, but many things I’ve had to learn how to do differently.

My functionality (and the visibility of my pain) vacillate from day to day. Some days I walk fine without pain, other days I use a cane, but every day I struggle to sit for any length of time. That means everything I do now has to pass through a filter that asks, “Can my body handle this?” I now have to think everything through in a way I never had to before. It’s made me realize how much I took my health for granted.

While this hasn’t been a secret, I haven’t talked about it publicly before now, mostly because I hate feeling limited. I hate that some days I feel almost normal and other days I’m in a wheelchair. I hate asking for help. I hate admitting I can’t do something. I hate the word “disabled.”

I want to be normal. I want to be free and unlimited. I want to be able to do whatever I please. But I’ve learned that my body now has limits I must follow, and that’s been hard to accept.

All these things have led me to a greater appreciation for the abilities I do have, and even the baby steps I make towards progress. It’s also made me more aware of privilege–the things I take for granted because I can. The things I forget to be grateful for. And the people around me who struggle because they don’t have them.

This short, 4-minute video on privilege is a powerful representation of this. It makes me more cognizant every time I watch it.

The Privilege Walk

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As we go about our week, let’s resolve to be more mindful of those around us who don’t have the same privileges that we do. Let’s work to not take our own for granted. Let’s challenge ourselves to think outside ourselves and make life a little better for just one person each day.

Let’s make eye contact.
Let’s smile.
Let’s say, “Hello.”
Let’s meet other people where they are, and truly love others the way Jesus did–and does–love us.

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Building Bridges

In recent weeks, it’s been easy to feel discouraged and fearful about the current and future state of our country. So many unknowns lurk in what we can’t see. But in the midst of this uncertainty, I received a sign of hope–a letter from a friend and former co-worker of mine that I hadn’t spoken to in quite awhile.

She’s Mormon and though we’ve always differed in our religious views, we’ve also always been able to listen to one another and see past our differences. When I came out, she was supportive–at first, but over time, her support grew silent. This type of experience wasn’t new to me–I had many friends who initially said they supported me when I came out, but over time distanced from our friendship. Some of those relationships I fought hard to maintain, others I just had to let go.

There have been a handful of those people that I’ve felt safe enough to let observe my life from the sidelines. I knew they didn’t necessarily agree or understand how my faith and sexuality intertwined. I knew the fact that I am married to a woman made some of them uncomfortable. But they’ve been respectful toward me even when they haven’t understood, and because of that, I’ve felt secure enough to allow them to quietly watch and examine my life. My inner hope was that by keeping that door open, in time they would see that my life, my marriage, my values, my beliefs, and my love for God really aren’t that different from theirs. I hoped it would help normalize and humanize something that may have only been a political or religious issue to them prior to knowing me.

I haven’t seen much fruit come from this yet. I knew it may take time, or that nothing may ever come from it at all. But then last week, I got a letter in the mail–a three-page, hand-written letter from my Mormon friend, Emmalee. She’s allowed me to share some of it with you.

Dear Amber,

I have been thinking about what I have learned from our friendship. We’ve both faced uncharted waters together and I am incredibly grateful for the experience. I remember how honored I was when you opened up and told me you are gay. I was so sad for all the persecution you faced from family and friends.

But what really rocked my boat was when you told me you were getting married. I didn’t realize it up until that point, but somewhere in my mind I had formed this opinion that we could be friends, but if you decided to get married, that changed everything. I just didn’t know what to do. I’m sorry my decision to not attend your wedding hurt you.

Since then, I have thought a lot about my friends who are gay. Who am I to put conditions on friendship? The Savior never said, “I only love you if…” He showed the way of unconditional love. That’s the kind of love I want to have not only for my family, but my friends as well. Who am I to say, “I’ll love you only if you live within the boundaries I want?”

I want you to know how much I love you. Even if our religious and family beliefs differ, you are still Amber. To love you is to accept who you are and your family.

Seeing how divided our country has become, I feel an even more urgent need to make sure I’m building bridges. Together our differences can unite us if we will choose love–unconditional love. Better tomorrows start with building and maintaining friendships to last a lifetime.

Lots of love,

Emmalee

Receiving this letter definitely took me by surprise. It takes an incredible dose of courage and humility to write a letter like that–to admit you made a mistake and that you want to do better. I was honored, grateful, and so encouraged. By allowing her to observe my life through Facebook posts, updates, and Christmas newsletters, her definition of love has expanded. She still may not fully understand or agree, but she’s trying and that’s what matters in a relationship. That is how you build bridges.

In this season that seems so divisive in so many ways, Emmalee’s letter has challenged me to focus on building bridges rather than living in fear of what I don’t know. I challenge you to join me: walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, write a letter, have a conversation with someone you don’t see eye-to-eye with and genuinely try to understand them. Act out of courage and humility, rather than out of fear. Together, if we build bridges with those around us, rather than walls around our own hearts, we will become stronger and can indeed make this world better for one another.

With Courage towards Love,

Amber

P.S. As of 9:30pm last night, the final manuscript of my memoir, Refocusing My Family has been submitted and a release date will be announced soon! With that (almost) behind me, I plan to blog more regularly. If you have something specific you would like to see me write about, please drop me a note at: Beyond.AmberCantorna@gmail.com. I’d love to hear from you. 🙂

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.