Christmas Miracles and an Anchor of Hope

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,

Amber Cantorna

*To see Brooke’s performance of O Holy Night on The Voice finale, click HERE.

Tour Tidings and Planting Seeds of Life

Dear Friends,

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.

PLANT SEEDS OF LIFE BY DONATING TODAY!

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,

Amber Cantorna

From Our Family to Yours This Christmas

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.

Signing books at the same table that J.K. Rowling and Hillary Clinton have sat at was a treat!

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.

One of our many trips to visit Little Anne in the hospital.

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!

Enjoying some much needed time off at the Int’l Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM.

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’s first airplane ride.

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

 

A Few Simple Ways to Love on the LGBTQ People in Your Life This Holiday Season

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 my most recent tour trip, 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,

Amber Cantorna