It Just Keeps Getting Better

Tomorrow marks six years since I came out of the closet. In some ways it feels so much longer. So much has happened in the span of those six years–I’ve fallen in love, gotten married to my wife, published a book, and started a non-profit for LGBTQ people of faith. Could it really be only six years ago that I was more scared than I’d ever been in my entire life as I prepared to tell my family following morning?

And yet, it seems like yesterday. I can still see so clearly the stoic look that was on their faces when my parents and younger brother arrived to my house, barely making eye contact as they came in the door. It was as if they knew something was up.

I can still sense the tension in the room that grew with every word I spoke about my journey of reconciling my faith and my sexuality.

I can still hear the deafening silence that hung in the air once the words “I am gay” finally left my mouth. It was the most vulnerable I’d ever felt in my life.

And I can still feel the pain that struck my heart with a knife when my dad looked at me with anger in his eyes and said, “I have nothing to say to you right now,” and walked out the door.

That screen door slamming behind them as my mom and brother followed suit was the sound of rejection. It broke my heart into pieces and I collapsed onto the floor. I so desperately longed for love–for an attempt at understanding. But there was none. Our relationship had never felt so drained of compassion or void of connection in my life.

My family was the family that was always there for one another. Hardly a day went by without talking to my mom on the phone. Living within close proximity made it easy to stop by for a cup of tea or family dinner. My dad started working at Focus on the Family when I was three years old, so our home was steeped in family values, godly parenting, and meaningful tradition for as far back as I can remember. Homeschooled K-12, my mom was a stay-at-home mom and housewife, as my dad went off to do the meaningful work of strengthening families.

I never dreamed that my dad’s position at Focus would tear me away from those I loved the most–but that’s what happened. The news of my sexual orientation tore apart the very fabric that wove us together and none of us were ever the same.

In the following weeks my parents compared me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality. They said I was selfish for doing this to the family and only considering what made me happy. They said they’d rather I turned my back on God completely, than pretend everything between me and God was okay.

And then they asked for the keys to their house back. And my world fell apart even more.

In the months following, we tried to find some common ground, but it never worked. I tried to maintain as consistent as I could to prove that I was still the same daughter they’d always known. I wanted their approval and I desperately needed to know that I still belonged. But as time went on, they pushed me further and further to the fringes–sometimes with their words, and other times with passive aggressive behavior. In time, I knew that I was no longer welcome as part of the family.

In the years that followed, I fell in love, got engaged, and married the love of my life. My wife and I will celebrate four years of marriage this June. We bought our first house, I published Refocusing My Family, and I founded a non-profit called Beyond to help other LGBTQ people of faith navigate their coming out process.

My dad still works at Focus on the Family to this day. And what I discovered was that their love, when tested, came with strings attached. In the end, their need to uphold their reputation and their desire to maintain appearances won out over their love for their own daughter. We haven’t spoken in almost four years. Completely cut off from both immediate and extended family, being authentic came at an extremely high cost.

And yet…it just keeps getting better.

Looking back over the last six years, I now know that coming out was absolutely the best decision I could have ever made. Being true to myself saved my life; it strengthened my faith, it gave me an authentic community where I could thrive, and it launched me into the ministry that I somehow always knew God had waiting for me.

In those days leading up to the most terrifying day of my life, I could only dream of the things I have now. Even though I had to let go of almost everything I’d ever known to gain it, I discovered a level of true and authentic joy I never knew existed. I’ve become more light, more free, and more happy than I ever was during my years of wrestling in the dark.

These past six years have been the best years of my life.

Yes, they have been laced with great sorrow and deep pain–experiences and hurtful words that I will never be able to forget. But the freedom of being who God has made you to be in its fullest form has made me feel more alive than I ever knew was possible.

In years past, my Coming Out Anniversary has been a day of solemn remembrance of what’s been lost and the price I paid for being true to myself. But this year, it is a day I celebrate because six years later (with some time and space in the rear view mirror), I see how valuable the journey has been.

If you are wrestling in the midst of that coming out process and still wondering if all this is ever going to be worth it one day, let me tell you my friends: it just keeps getting better.

Because Love STILL Makes All the Difference,

Amber Cantorna

*You can read more about Amber’s journey in her memoir, Refocusing My Family, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. If you are in the process of navigating your own coming out process, you can find resources at Amber’s website and keep an eye out for Amber’s second book coming Spring 2019 which will provide helpful tools to guide you along this journey.

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

 

For Parents of LGBTQ Kids

Hey Friends,

This last week I had the honor of speaking to a group of over 1,200 parents of LGBTQ kids online through a Facebook LIVE event. They were gracious enough to let me share the recording with you in hopes that it may help you along your own journey as well.

If you are the parent of an LGBTQ child and are looking for support and community, please consider joining the Parents of LGBTQ Kids Support Group on Facebook. To join, send a private message to the group administrator, or email Susan Berland directly at: susan@susanhopeberland.com.

Because Love Makes ALL the Difference,

Amber Cantorna