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. 🙂