Refocusing My Family (An Excerpt from Ch. 18 of “Refocusing My Family”)

In early 2016, I sat across the dinner table from the national trans advocate and former megachurch pastor, Rev. Dr. Paula Williams. I told her I was thinking of going public with my story and asked if she had any advice for me. She sat calmly, probing a bit, and asked me a series of difficult questions. Feeling a little like I was being interrogated, it was clear to me she was getting at something; I just wasn’t sure what it was. Then, after collecting the information she felt she needed, she looked me in the eyes with an intensity that came both from a heart of love and a heart of compassion, and said, “Amber, embedded in your identity is a responsibility to be a voice for change.”

I sat with that profound statement and let it resonate for a moment. It felt like God in human form had just spoken to me. It was a divine moment that confirmed what I already felt I was supposed to do with the story I’d been given. Struck with both the weight of that responsibility and the magnitude of it, that phrase repeated itself in my spirit for days. That’s how I knew it was God. And that’s how I knew it was time to tell my story.

It’s not an easy story to tell. Writing it has taken me on quite a journey. But I believe that part of the reason I’m still alive today is so that my story could be used to help change the culture for those still searching for hope to live authentically.

Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers, and LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are over eight times more likely to attempt suicide compared to their LGB peers who report no or low levels of family rejection. 40 percent of transgender adults have reported attempting suicide with 92 percent of them doing so before the age of 25.

One of the driving forces behind writing this book was how close I came to being one of those statistics. The way family and friends respond to LGBT loved ones when they come out, directly affects their lives, and their perceived worth. I wish my parents understood that. It could have saved us all from so much heartache.

I’m so grateful for the life I have now and the joy I find in the family my wife and I are creating together. But looking back, I still think about my life in two parts: before coming out, and after coming out. In many ways, it feels like I’ve lived two completely different lives divided by one defining moment of authenticity. I’ve tried to blend those two worlds together whenever I can—like carrying on some of the traditions from my childhood. But when it comes to having my parents as a part of Clara’s and my life, I’ve had to allow myself grace to accept the uncomfortable disconnect and grieve the loss.

In many ways, I’m still the same person I’ve always been. I still love music and have a strong passion for worship. I still love the holidays and fostering traditions that make them special. I still love creating a cozy home and hospitable environment. I still enjoy coaching and have a deep heart for people. And I still cuddle up next to the fireplace every fall for an Anne of Green Gables marathon. Being gay is just one part of who I am, but so much of me remains the same.

And at the same time, because I have been ostracized by people who want my sexuality to define me, much of me has changed. I’ve had to fight for my relationship with God against a culture that says you can’t be both gay and Christian. I’ve had to study the Bible deeply for myself and learn how to defend my faith to those who question it. And I’ve had to look at issues through the eyes of the marginalized. I now stand with all people living in marginalized groups, whether I’m a part of them or not, because I believe that’s what Jesus did, and because I’ve seen firsthand what happens to people when we don’t. All of these things in turn have made me a stronger, healthier, and more well-rounded individual.

But in the process, I’ve also had to refocus a few things…

Refocusing My Family officially releases tomorrow, October 1st! You can order your copy HERE now!

Also, mark your calendar for the Refocusing My Family event nearest you!

Orphan Amber (An Excerpt from Ch. 13 of “Refocusing My Family”)

It was three weeks before my parents contacted me again, telling me they were finally ready to talk. Although it made me uncomfortable, I agreed to meet them at their house, rather than in public, so we could talk more privately. Settling into the family room in the basement that held so many fond memories for me, it was clear that this conversation wouldn’t be pleasant.

My mom and dad sat side by side, presenting a strong, cohesive force. They prefaced the conversation with, “Before we say anything, Amber, you need to know that we love you. But . . .” and so it began. I’m not sure why Christians always feel the need to preface their harsh words with, “I love you” before telling you that you’re wrong about something. The theory of tough love is a common one among Christians, and I’m sure Dobson’s support of that theory influenced my parents a great deal. When it comes to the gay community specifically, Dobson said, “We are obligated as Christians to treat homosexuals respectfully and with dignity, but we are also to oppose, with all vigor, the radical changes they hope to impose on the nation. It is vitally important that we do so.”

In the same article Dobson also denies having ever done or said anything that would be harmful to the gay community. But encouragement from evangelical leaders to implement a tough love approach has been severely detrimental to many LGBTQ people, causing them to feel like they have to change an innate part of themselves in order to be acceptable to God. “Speaking the truth in love” is often used as a free pass that allows Christians to say whatever they want. As a result, it has driven many away not only from the church, but from a relationship with God.

That’s what my parents were about to do: “speak the truth to me in love.”

“I feel like you’ve died, Amber—like I’ve lost you,” my dad began with a grievous look on his face. My mom agreed.

“I feel the same way. You’ve turned your back on God and everything we’ve ever taught you,” she stated with resolve. Everything I’d told them three weeks ago about how much time I spent seeking God and searching the Bible, everything I’d said about how this whole process actually brought me closer to God, not further away, had been disregarded. They only heard what they wanted to hear.

“We’re hurt that you didn’t come to us with this sooner,” my dad continued. “We would have loved to help you by sending you to a Love Won Out conference.10 We would have loved to walk through this with you. Even if you still arrived at the same decision, at least we would have known that we did everything we could to persuade you. But because you didn’t include us in your journey, it’s too late. You’ve already made up your mind.

“But you’re deeply deceived, Amber. Like Eve, you’ve eaten the fruit from Satan. You’ve gotten in with the wrong crowd and they’ve brainwashed you. You’re putting your soul in jeopardy. I’m afraid that you’re damning yourself to hell.”

My dad went on to compare me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality.

“If I want to just go and marry a donkey, is that okay? Or if I see a little kid and want to have sex with them, can I just go ahead and do that and act on whatever I feel? You could even get a bunch of murderers together to form their own church and just make that all okay!”

Their words shattered me. I was devastated by their attacks on me, their own daughter, and felt gravely misunderstood. I didn’t know what to say. I was tongue-tied and ill-equipped to handle such accusations. I never imagined I’d hear such horrible and harsh words from my own parents.

Stay tuned for additional excerpts being released throughout the week. Refocusing My Family officially comes out this coming Sunday, October 1st. You can order your copy HERE now!


My Adventure in Odyssey (An Excerpt from Ch. 1 of “Refocusing My Family”)

“Okay, Amber, we’re ready for you. Let’s head on back to the recording studio and get you set up.”

I hopped off the stool where I waited for my cue and followed the engineer into the soundproof recording booth.

“Have a seat right here, honey. This microphone is for you,” he explained, walking over with me to help me get situated. I placed my script on the music stand in front of me and plopped myself down in the chair.

“Here are your headphones. Just put them on your ears like this,” he continued, as he adjusted the wide black strap across the top of my head and placed an earphone over each ear. They felt like a pair of winter earmuffs, only much heavier. My head bobbed at the weight of them, and the suction they created around my ears muted all sound, causing the world to go silent.

Then a loud, clear voice from within the earphones broke the dead air. The sound came from a man on the other side of the glass where the engineers sat in front of their mixing boards, ready to record.

“Okay, Amber, let’s test the microphone. Do you have your script?”

“Yes, but I already know my lines.” I smiled with pride. “Alright, then here we go!”

I was a home-schooled third-grader. When most kids visit their dad at work, they go to an office, or a storefront. I, on the other hand, was in a recording studio at the Focus on the Family headquarters in Colorado Springs where my dad worked as an executive. The script on the music stand in front of me was to another episode of the popular kids’ radio drama, “Adventures in Odyssey.” Venturing into the world of Whit’s End with characters like Mr. John Avery Whittaker, Connie Kendall, and Eugene Meltsner, a “world of discovery, imagination, and excitement” awaited all who listened.

#1 Caption- Will Ryan (Eugene Meltsner) and me

I listened multiple times to every episode ever made. I knew them all by name, which cassette or CD package to find them on, and the story line of each. The episodes of “Adventures in Odyssey” helped me fall asleep at night, gauged the time remaining on a road trip, and made cleaning my room a little easier. The excitement of playing one of the characters was only matched by seeing the details of how the episodes were created. I loved watching the actors record, listening as the voice parts were mixed with music to create smooth transitions between scenes, and seeing how foley (the sound-effects) made the whole story come to life. But the “world of discovery, imagination, and excitement” didn’t just live within the fantasy of Whit’s End; it also lived within my everyday life—especially my home life. From the time I was very young, I was taught the utmost importance of one thing: family.

Stay tuned for additional excerpts being released throughout the week. Refocusing My Family officially comes out this coming Sunday, October 1st. If you enjoyed this excerpt, you can order your copy HERE now!