The Unexpected People Who Change Your Life

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I’m amazed at how people can subtly change our life, sometimes without us even knowing it. This past week, because of an unexpected situation, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the people that have changed my life.

Some of you know that I deal with chronic pain and undergo a somewhat intensive treatment on a regular basis. Last week, I walked into my doctor’s office with my wife and my service dog, Half Pint ready for another treatment. The three of us always go to my treatments together and Half Pint has become so well loved by the staff that they claim her as their office mascot. It’s one of Half Pint’s favorite places to accompany me and she gets excited every time I tell her that’s where we’re going. And last week was no exception. We all walked in with smiles.#34 Caption- Half Pint becomes a service dog

But the climate in the office was different that day. The staff, usually bubbly and excited to see us (especially Half Pint), were not their smiley selves. Following one of the medical staff back into the treatment room, I said,

“How are you today?”

“Ok,” she responded. “Just sad, you know,” as if I was supposed to know what she was talking about. But I didn’t.

“Why sad?” I asked, beginning to clue in to the fact that I was missing something.

“Didn’t you get the letter?”

What letter?” I said, starting to feel nervous.

“Dr. Chris is retiring at the end of the month.”

For a moment, my world stopped. She explained that, due to complications with his own chronic pain, he was retiring in hopes of avoiding extensive surgery. Instant tears formed in my eyes. I was totally caught off guard.

Waiting for Dr. Chris to enter the room, I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The shock I felt was similar to when you receive the news that a family member was in a serious car accident, or your best friend was diagnosed with cancer. Retirement is supposed to be a happy, celebratory time. But it was clear that nobody was excited about this unexpected news. It was even reflected on Dr. Chris’ face when he walked in the room. This was not planned. This was sudden, and this was hard. I fought tears throughout the entire appointment. (That will teach me to check my mail!)

Making it through my treatment, I barely got it to the car before I fell apart. I cried the rest of the night.

Spending the next several days in bed (as I always do following this treatment), it gave me time to analyze the situation. I didn’t expect the news of my doctor retiring to have such a strong affect on me. But it did, and I struggled to sleep for days afterward. My heart was heavy for him and the extent of the pain he was battling, for his family and the transition this meant for all of them, and for me and what this meant for the future of my own treatment and recovery.

What I realized in those heavy, restless nights was that Dr. Chris had become more than just my doctor. Seeing him every few weeks for the last two and a half years, he had taken me from being bed-ridden, to being functional and mobile again. When other doctor’s doubted my pain because they couldn’t find evidence of it on a screening test, Dr. Chris believed me. He knew instantly what was wrong and gently, with love, care, and compassion guided me towards healing.

When I experienced an unexpected setback this last summer, he  looked me in the eye and made me promise not to get discouraged, because he knew I was going to get better. It was like having a D.O. and a built in therapist all rolled into one. He joked around and teased me to keep the pain of what I was going through light-hearted. And he always asked about my personal life, knowing the level of stress I was under often dictated the extent to which I continued (or didn’t continue) to heal. As time went on, he often ended our appointment with a hug rather than a handshake. He went above and beyond his call of duty as a doctor and I never doubted that he truly cared.

Reflecting on all that this past weekend made me realize, Dr. Chris and his office staff have become more like family than simply the medical office that I visit ever few weeks. I’ve trusted Dr. Chris. I’ve felt safe under his medical care. And I’ve relied on his wisdom and encouragement to lead me towards further recovery and mobility.

It’s clear that I did not see this coming. In fact, I thought we would move away from Colorado long before Dr. Chris would retire, and frequently told my wife that if we did, I would still come back to Denver for treatments and follow-ups with Dr. Chris as needed. He’s been the only one I’ve trusted with my medical care after many misguided attempts at other facilities.

So my life is about to change to a degree. And it’s with great sadness that I move forward and attempt to establish my care with another physician. This has made me acutely aware of the importance of never taking people in your life for granted. You never know when your life or their’s is going to change.unexpected_love-374194

So this week, I urge you to consider:

Who’s in your life right now that, whether you’ve been aware of it or not, is changing your life?

Do you take them for granted?

Who’s life are you influencing and how can you encourage them this week?

I encourage you to take inventory of your life and those who, in either the foreground or background, are doing things to change your life for the better. Make a special point to thank them this week.

I will have my final appointment with Dr. Chris this coming Tuesday. I will do my best not to cry, and I will be bringing him a home-made apple pie (which I hear is his favorite) as way to say thank you, and “coping” cookies for the staff as they face the big transition ahead.

Dr. Chris–thank you. You’ve saved and changed my life. I will miss you deeply.

Mother’s Day Reflections from a Motherless LGBTQ Daughter

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I am a motherless LGBTQ daughter. My mother is not deceased, she does not live out of state, and my parents are not divorced. My mother lives only 60 miles from me, yet because of our differing religious beliefs, we are divided. We have not spoken in years.

I never dreamed it would be this way. It certainly didn’t used to be. My mother and I used to talk on the phone at least once every day. Even after I moved out of the house, I never lived more than a mile or two from my parents’ home. We saw each other often. My mom and I went to garage sales together, we watched movies together, we took our dogs to the park together, and we helped each other with projects that needed to be done. We had many years of doing mother/daughter things together. And as long as I stayed in the closet, wore a smile, and pretended to be who my mom wanted, we enjoyed spending time together.

But one defining moment of authenticity changed all that. Once I came out and told her that I was gay, everything she thought about me changed. In her eyes, I was no longer the daughter she knew, or the daughter she raised, or the daughter she loved.

Her devotion to her religious beliefs convinced my mom that she must choose between her loyalty to God and her loyalty to her daughter. She chose God.

I expect she did this out of fear: fear that if she loves her daughter (like I want to believe her heart longs to), that God will be angry with her for condoning the abominable sin of homosexuality. That embracing me could potentially endanger her own soul and not just mine. Or perhaps it’s the opinion of others that keeps her shackled. How would having a gay daughter reflect on her as a parent? Or worse, what would it say about her own belief system if she supported her gay daughter? And therefore, it seems easier for her to ignore that her daughter exists at all, than to admit to her family and friends that her daughter is gay.

Five Mother’s Days have now passed without my mother. I wish I could say it’s gotten easier, but leading up to Mother’s Day this year has been the hardest for me yet. Digging in and dissecting my life and upbringing this past year has led me to discover some truths about my relationship with my mother–truths that have not been easy to accept.

So this Mother’s Day there’s a hole in my heart; an ache that represents a painful emptiness not of death, but of rejection; of being unlovable because of whom I love.

My heart aches over the fact that my mother sees me as deceived and selfish, that she’s missed some of the most beautiful and wonderful moments of my life, that she privately mourned her only daughter’s wedding rather than celebrated it with us, and that she is unable to see that I am more happy and more free than I’ve ever been.

She’s missed the last five years of my life: the years that I fell in love, got married, bought my first house, started my own family. They’ve been the best years I’ve ever known, yet the vacant seat of a mother in my heart continues to grieve for what could have been between us.

I still need a mother.

I’m a grown adult, starting my second career, married with a wife, house, and two pups, but I still ache for the love of a mother’s arms, the gentle, undestanding voice that says everything is going to be okay, the reassurance that comes from confiding in someone who has lived longer, and the ability to glean from their wisdom.

I’m so grateful for each of the Mama Bears that I have met. I want to meet more of you. I long to have a deeper presence of strong, beautiful, brave mothers in my life. Each of you Mama Bears inspire me because you’ve been courageous enough to face your fear of the unknown, and fight fiercely for your child. It’s what I wish my mother would have done for me. I know the road has not been easy. But I respect and admire each of you for the journey you willingly took to learn to love your child fully as God already loves them.

For those mothers of LGBTQ children who have been brave enough to take that journey–thank you. You inspire me and give me hope.

For those mother’s who have an LGBTQ child but are still afraid of what God thinks of them, or of you–I beg of you, reach out and take the hand of another mother who’s been there and can help guide you along. You can do that by contacting Susan Cottrell or Liz Dyer.

imagesAnd to those motherless daughters (and sons) like me–be brave. Hold your head up high. The Mother and Father of your heart loves you and says you are beautiful and precious exactly as you are. Allow yourself to grieve the loss in whatever way you need to this Sunday. Join me in stepping away from social media for the day if you feel that will be helpful for you. Let’s aim to fill our hearts with love, acceptance, and joy this week knowing we are celebrated by those who embrace us for who we are, and let’s start a legacy of acceptance for all who follow after us.

 

Because Love Makes all the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

 

Note: While I will not be on social media this Sunday, I will accept all messages, texts, and phone calls from any Mama Bear that wants to exchange love this Mother’s Day. :)

Finding Comfort in the Unknown

largeI’m always inspired by how easily wonder and mystery comes for little children. Their eyes get big as they believe in the impossible, or they might gasp in awe at something that to them seems like pure magic. For them, it’s so simple. They’re so full of belief, so curious, and so easily excited by discovering the things that we, as adults, think of as mundane.

Growing up, there was a certain degree of magical wonder in our home. We believed in fantasy characters like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even the Tooth Fairy for as long as our young minds would hold onto them. I remember one Easter in particular my parents went to special lengths to make the Easter Bunny believable by using powdered sugar to make bunny prints on our carpet leading us through our home to our Easter baskets. For a woman like my mother who was a meticulous housekeeper, that was sacrifice!

As the years passed, the Tooth Fairy faded and belief in the Easter bunny gave way to the simple giving and receiving of Easter baskets. However, at the plea of my inner child, my dad continued to dress up in a red suit and visit us each Christmas Eve until I was well out of college. It was one of my favorite magical Christmas moments every year.

But wonder and mystery were not as acceptable when it came to our faith. Growing up conservative, evangelical Christians, there was not as much wiggle room in regards to exploring the awe of Christ. Rules, expectations, and appearances took precedence over wonder, mystery, and awe. We seemed to find comfort in a God we could place in a box–a God we could understand. Black and white answers and principles that were either clearly right or clearly wrong were foundational to the functionality of our faith. We needed to know. We needed to have it all together. We needed to be right.

This theology of course, was very harmful to me as I got older. Unable to openly question my faith, I was trapped into believing in a very small God. This became especially complicated when I began to question my sexuality. Doubt was seen as a form of weakness and fear was believed to come from not centering yourself in the truth of Christ. Therefore everything was supposed to be “cured” by simply praying harder and believing in God more.

But this theory failed me when I realized I was gay. Being gay did not fit into the black and white theology I was raised on. As a result, I believed that God did not love or accept me because of this fatal flaw.

This version of faith failed me again when I came out to my parents, family, and friends. With very few exceptions, almost all of them followed their allegiance to their need for certainty and belief in what they thought was right, rather than being willing to confront what they did not understand and face their fear of the unknown out of love for me. As a result, I lost everyone I loved the most. What I learned, is that the need for certainty can be deadly. It can kill relationships, it can kill faith, and it can even take lives.

But over time on my journey of refocusing, I rediscovered wonder and awe. It’s not as scary to me now as it once was. Don’t get me wrong, I struggled for a long time to let go of my need for certainty. But what I learned was that certainty didn’t require any actual faith at all.

If you know everything already, what need do you have for God?

As with most people, the older I get, the more I realize how much I don’t know. But rather than allowing that to frighten me, I’ve come to let it inspire me. It pushes me to discover and learn more. And my not knowing (or my questions, or my doubt) drive me to have an even deeper faith. Because believing in God, in the midst of my doubt and questions, is what faith is really all about to begin with.

So I’ve become comfortable with not knowing. I’ve become okay with not having all the answers worked out to all the big theological questions. I’ve learned to accept, and in fact, find comfort, in what I don’t know. It leads me to a greater place of mystery, and wonder, and awe of who God is. And in fact, it leads me to peace, because I’m free from the weight of having to have all the answers.

downloadI don’t know what comes to mind for you when you think of wonder and mystery: perhaps it’s the phenomena of space and the time that you saw the milky way on a dark, starry night; perhaps it’s the recollection of your wedding day or the day you brought a child into the world; perhaps you think of creation, or even evolution.

What you do not know or understand may provoke awe in you, or it may provoke fear. But today I encourage you to work towards a faith that allows space for your questions. Give your heart permission let go of your need for certainty and leave space for the unknown.

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Allow God to expand your understanding of what you don’t understand, and in turn create room for wonder, mystery, reverence, and awe.

Then, let it live inside of you every day.

 

Because Love Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna