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

 

My Evening with the Mama Bears

Inkedflat,1000x1000,075,f.u1_LIThis week, I had the opportunity of being the special guest on Serendipitydoodah’s Facebook LIVE event. Serendipitydoodah is a private Facebook group for moms of LGBTQ kids. With currently over 1,900 members they continue to grow and connect across denominations and struggles as they share one thing in common: their LGBTQ children.

This is my second time speaking to this group and each time it is an honor. With the presence of my own parents absent from my life, I love soaking up all the Mama Bear love and in turn offering some of my own insight and experience.

Prior to my Facebook LIVE event the other night (which feels a lot like talking to yourself in the mirror and hoping someone is listening!) the moms of the group had the chance to submit questions for me to answer during my hour of time with them. I’ve chosen three of them from the list to share with you here this week:

What can we do to help our LGBTQ kids stay connected to their faith?

Love them unconditionally. Kids learn about God from their parents. If you demonstrate an unconditional love for who they are and celebrate their sexuality, then they will have no need or reason to distance themselves from God. Your embrace eliminates the stigma, shame, or belief that who they are is not acceptable before God. If they feel fully loved by you, then they will feel fully loved by God. That is how you keep them connected to their faith.

Do you have advice on how we can be supportive to those in the LGBTQ community who do not have support from their parents/families?

Yes! First of all, love them. You have no idea what level of rejection they’ve faced from their own family, friends, or church. Feeling embraced and loved, especially from a parental figure, goes so far.

Second, be vocal allies for them. Stand up for them in the circles you interact with and include them just as you would anyone else.

Lastly, remember holidays. Even five years later, holidays continue to be hard for me. But it’s not just the big three (Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas); it’s also Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my Coming Out anniversary, my wedding anniversary, my birthday. I remember the first year after Clara and I got married my adopted Nana called me and wished me a happy anniversary. That meant so much to me that she remembered and cared enough to call. Or the first year after I met Clara’s parents, Clara’s mom called me for my birthday because she knew my own mother wouldn’t. Those moments mean everything to those that have lost family. It’s the little moments, the thoughtfulness, the feeling of being remembered and celebrated the way you should that makes all the difference in the world to those who have lost support and love from their biological families.

What advice do you have for moms who are dealing with close family members and friends who are not affirming and view their child as sinning if they date or marry someone of the same sex?

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Stand by your child. I realize this may cost you some relationships with people you love. Essentially, you are having to come out just like your child is having to come out. It’s different, but you are still experiencing some of the consequences of authentic living. Regardless, I encourage you to be the parent and protect your child. Learn to set healthy boundaries. This is not easy to do with the ones we love. But for your health, safety, and sanity you will need to learn to set them. Think through and know ahead of time what you will and will not tolerate before going into a potentially risky situation with your close family or friends. Your relatives may not understand, but your child will feel safe. And in the end, that is all that matters.

 

Above all, remember….love makes all the difference.

Amber Cantorna

P.S. Tour dates are officially starting to show up on the Events page of my website. Check it out! And shoot me an email if I’m coming to YOUR city…or if I’m not yet, but you’d like to help schedule an event in your area!

Mother’s Day Reflections from a Motherless LGBTQ Daughter

To-the-motherless-daughters

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. 🙂