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(*This article first appeared on Baptist News Global. You can view the original article here.)

This year is, without a doubt, unlike any other. The daily events happening on a personal, professional and political level are enough to make all of us want to disappear from time to time. As we look ahead to the holidays, what can we do to make them special, rather than one more way to dread 2020?

It’s true that things will undeniably be different this year. You may not be able to travel the way you’re used to, it may not be safe to go visit grandma or have all your loved ones gather around your table, and the big Christmas party you always host is now a fraction of the size.

Here are a few tips to make the best of our current situation:

Take advantage of the slower pace. The holiday season usually is so filled with the hustle and bustle of parties, events and shopping that we just operate in a constant state of chaos. This year, most of that chaos is being removed for us. Slowing down may be difficult (I know it can be for me) but this is an opportunity to focus on what is really important, rather than getting sidetracked by the trivial, meaningless things that often rob us of our time and attention.

Instead of striving to “keep up with the Joneses” this season, take a breath. Read the book that has been sitting on your nightstand for months. Write a handwritten letter to someone you miss. Sit and enjoy a cup of hot cocoa by the fire with your pet. Let your soul breathe.

Our hearts need healing and respite after such a tumultuous year. Don’t rob yourself of that gift.

Consider observing Advent. If you don’t already, consider observing Advent this year. With the long-lasting effects of a global pandemic, we all have things we are grieving: family we are missing, weddings we’ve postponed, loved ones we’ve lost, graduations with far too few people present, big life moments that somehow feel empty, dreams that have been paused, trips that feel too far away to be excited about.

Disappointment seems ever present and grief like our daily companion. Taking time to pause, to reflect and to ground ourselves this holiday season may be just the thing our souls need. If you’re looking for a progressive lens through which to view Advent, consider Low: An Honest Advent Devotional, by John Pavlovitz or A Weary World: Reflections for a Blue Christmas, by Kathy Escobar.

“This year may be different, but that doesn’t mean giving back has to stop.”

Volunteer virtually. The holidays are typically a time of year when we look for ways to give back. We volunteer at the local soup kitchen, buy toys for kids whose parents are incarcerated or hand out sandwiches in the park. This year may be different, but that doesn’t mean giving back has to stop.

Earlier this year, our church did a Volunteer-a-thon and provided a fantastic list of virtual volunteering opportunities. I invite you to check out the resources they’ve researched and listed.

A couple other options would be doing a “Safer-at-Home Service Project” with Together We Rise to help foster care youth, or partnering with Glennon Doyle’s non-profit Together Rising to support families in need.

You also could serve those in your local neighborhood by raking leaves or shoveling the driveway for someone living with chronic illness, the elderly or a single mom who is trying to do it all. Whatever you choose to do, I encourage you to still find ways to give back this holiday season. Families need it now more than ever.

Deliver doorstep packages. It will be hard to gather for our usual festivities this year like we are used to doing. However, that doesn’t mean the fun has to stop. There are creative things we can do to still engage old traditions in a new ways.

You can use platforms like Elfster to create a virtual Secret Santa among your co-workers, friends or family. You also can make goody baskets with all your favorite baked goods and deliver them to people’s doorsteps. It keeps you safe and socially distanced, while still sending love to those you care about. I can almost guarantee this will make their day.

Remember, simple acts of kindness not only remind us of our humanity, but of the fact that we are all connected and in this together.

“Sit down as a family and brainstorm ways to keep the holidays special.”

Be creative with your kids. If this year has been hard on us, it certainly has been hard on our kids. They, too, are enduring lots of change, disappointment and fear. I encourage you to sit down as a family and brainstorm ways to keep the holidays special.

Perhaps make a list of all your ideas and put them in a basket. Then pull one out every time your family is looking for something to do together.

A few ideas that would offer you some fun while keeping you safe include baking cookies together, decorating a gingerbread house, going ice skating or ice fishing, building a snowman, sledding, doing a puzzle, or cuddling up to your favorite Christmas movie by the tree. Letting each family member choose at least one activity they want to do during the holidays will give them sense of belonging as well as a feeling of control over their environment during a time that feels so out of control to us all.

Finally, if in past years you’ve taken your kids to visit Santa at the mall, consider dressing up like Santa yourself and making a home visit. This will create a Christmas memory for your young ones they’re sure to never forget.

Yes, the holidays will be different this year. But different does have to be negative or bad. Lean in, dig deeper and see what gems arise as you find new and meaningful ways to celebrate this season.

Taking 5 minutes to read this vulnerable article will tell you why this election is so deeply personal to me.

“If you haven’t voted yet, this column is for you. With the election less than two weeks away, I want to share with you the story of my family.

I was raised in the heart of evangelical Christianity in Colorado Springs, Colo. My father has been in an executive position at Focus on the Family for more than 30 years, and my mom homeschooled my brother and me from kindergarten all the way through high school, shuttling us around to all the activities that embraced our family values: Awana, VBS, church, youth group, fundraising for missions; you name it, we did it.

I signed a vow of purity on my 13th birthday, I went on missions trips all over the world in my teens, and I did a year-long prayer internship after college. My family was the epitome of evangelical Christianity, and I was their poster child.

“My family was the epitome of evangelical Christianity, and I was their poster child…that is, until I realized I was gay.”

That is, until I realized I was gay. What ensued in my 20s was a battle that nearly took my life as I fought against the theology I was taught that told me you could not be both gay and Christian. I spiraled down a dark hole of depression, crippling anxiety, PTSD, self-hatred, self-harm and suicidal ideations because of the belief that God hates gay people, and therefore, now hates me. I felt completely worthless to God and others to the point that it almost seemed better if I were dead.

Eventually, with much biblical study, support and therapy, I found the strength to come out. But it cost me everything. My parents looked me in the eye and told me they felt like I had died. They compared being gay to murder and pedophilia and took away my key to their home. Nothing was ever the same again. After two years of strained contact, they cut ties with me completely, and we haven’t spoken since. That was more than six years ago.

About my wife:
My wife, Clara, is a first-generation immigrant. Born in the Philippines, she was left there with her grandfather while her parents came to America to start a better life. Once established, they sent for her, and she was raised on the island of Oahu. She knew she was gay when she was 5, but had many of the same internal struggles about her identity because her Southern Baptist faith told her if she was gay, she didn’t qualify to be a child of God.

She graduated from Scripps College in California and, in effort to further suppress her sexuality, immediately enlisted in the Army, where she ended up building her career.

But after the 2016 election, she began feeling like she was protecting a country that wouldn’t protect her. In fact, it was doing just the opposite and actively fighting to take away her basic human rights as a gay, female, person of color. In November 2018, she retired from the military after 26 years of serving her country.

About our family:
When Clara and I met, it was love at first sight — well, for her. For me, it took a little longer to hop aboard the love boat. Once we got engaged and began planning our wedding, we were denied our first choice, our second choice and our third choice of wedding venues because we were gay.

“Once we began planning our wedding, we were denied our first choice, our second choice, and our third choice of wedding venues because we were gay.”

Planning a dream wedding as a gay couple with no family support was beyond hard. Leading up to the wedding, I had nightmares about my family that were so intense I would wake myself up because I was sobbing so hard in my sleep. In the end, I had no family present at our wedding, and many who did attend (although I’m deeply grateful for them) felt like placeholders for the family and friends who would have been there had I married a man.

Over the last six and a half years, we’ve created a beautiful life together. But it has not been an easy life. There have been many lonely holidays and life challenges we had to face on our own. We’ve come to build a wonderful family of choice, but that has taken time.

In recent years, my health has been failing as well. After four years of searching for answers, I was finally diagnosed this past June with a complex illness for which there is no cure. Best case scenario, I could be in remission in two to five years. This sobering news also closes the window on my ability to get pregnant or bear children of our own.

Me: A gay female, disowned by my family, fighting chronic illness and disability, and unable to have biological children of our own.

My wife: A gay female, a first-generation immigrant, and person of color who served 26 years in the military.

Our family: An interracial, inter-abled, same-sex couple, who have been happily married for 6-plus years.

This is us. Our family is beautiful and full of love, but our story is complex. Sharing these details with you makes me feel vulnerable, but I don’t do it for your pity. I tell you because how you choose to vote in this election will have a direct impact on the future of my family.

What’s at stake:
Will you vote to support a candidate or party that is actively working against the safety and well-being of me and my wife? The outcome of this election will determine whether or not I am able to stay on my wife’s health care to get the treatment I desperately need.

“The outcome of this election will determine whether or not I am able to stay on my wife’s health care to get the treatment I desperately need.”

It will determine whether or not a physician can refuse me care.

It will determine whether or not I can get fired from a job without cause.

It will determine whether or not my marriage remains legal in the eyes of the law.

It will determine whether or not we will be able to expand our family through adoption.

For you, voting may be a matter of principal. For me (and so many others like me) it is a matter between health and sickness, employment or unemployment, marriage or anulled marriage, life or death.

You can’t say it isn’t personal. It is personal. It is deeply personal. It is personal to me. It will affect every aspect of my life moving forward: either for safety and equality, or for discrimination and oppression.

Voting the way you’ve always done is no longer an excuse. If you truly want to represent Jesus, do what I believe he would do if he were here: Vote for the people on the margins. Vote for me.”

(This article was written by Amber Cantorna and originally posted in Baptist News Global. You can read the full article here: https://baptistnews.com/…/when-you-go-to-the-polls-rememb…/…)

This week I wrote an article about my deconstruction journey and 3 deconstructed beliefs that can help us in this season of voting, fighting a global pandemic, and standing up against racial injustice. This article appeared first on Baptist News Global. This is just a piece of my journey, but I hope it also becomes a piece of yours.

Transitioning from the beliefs I was raised with to the beliefs I now hold has taken me more than a decade. You don’t go from being a conservative evangelical to a progressive person of faith overnight.

I used to be the poster child for evangelical Christianity. My father was (is) an executive at Focus on the Family, I was home-schooled K-12, I went on missions trips, I signed the purity vow and wore the purity ring, I did a year-long prayer internship after college called The Furnace (no, really!). Evangelicalism was my life.

Had I not realized that I was gay in my early 20s, I likely still would identify as evangelical, still be holding conservative beliefs and still be the submissive woman (likely a pastor’s wife) that I was expected to be.

But instead, you could say I had a crisis of faith. I was forced to recalibrate my beliefs because I was gay. Not all of us are presented with such an opportunity. Often, unless something spurs you to have a crisis of faith (the death of a loved one, a health diagnosis, a coming-out experience) you have no reason to re-evaluate your beliefs. You remain comfortable and unquestioning because nothing has forced you to the contrary.

However, with all that is happening in our world — the global pandemic, the racial injustice, the fires engulfing the West, the struggling economy, the critical upcoming election, and the children separated from their parents at the border — I hope something has made you uncomfortable enough to re-evaluate where you stand, what you believe and what you are going to vote for this November.

“With all that is happening in our world, I hope something has made you uncomfortable enough to re-evaluate where you stand.”

I’ve changed the way I believe about many things, but several of them feel quite critical during this season of our lives.

Former Belief: We can fit God in a box. Growing up, I was taught to believe that evangelical Christianity was the only way to heaven and that biblical study and church attendance were the only way to experience God. All other religions, beliefs and practices were either pagan, new age or a cult. We claimed our God was omnipotent and omnipresent, but in reality, we didn’t actually believe it. In hindsight, I found that the God of evangelicalism is very limited and very small.

Corrected Belief: God is beyond boundaries or limits. I have come to discover a God much bigger than my box. I’ve discovered a God not limited by race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation, geographical region or man-made belief systems. Often, what we believe about God is dependent on cultural, societal and geographical factorsThis does not make them less valuable or valid. I have met people who have discovered God in a multitude of ways, including in mosques, in churches, in nature, in people, in written texts, in small groups, in music, in rituals of all kinds. Looking for God outside my set belief system was scary at first but with time has become one of the most enriching and liberating experiences of my life. It allowed me to realize that God is everywhere.

Former Belief: Life is binary. As evangelicals, we were taught to believe that life lives in binaries. Something is either right or it is wrong, it is black or it is white, you are male or you are female. If you’re struggling, you need more faith. If you’re unsure about something you just need to pray more. It is simple, it is clear, it is uncomplicated — until it’s not.

Corrected Belief: Life is full of nuance. I have come to learn that life is all about the grey. It is full of nuance, layers and complexities that are unique to each person and their set of lived (and unlived) experiences. Our role is to keep an open heart and mind and be willing to learn from those experiences. If we’re open to it, I believe we will also encounter the divine in these moments.

Former Belief: Christians should be color-blind and treat everyone the same. Evangelicalism trains us that we are all the same in God’s eyes. From infancy we are taught, “Red and yellow, black and white, we are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Yet somehow, we’ve become experts at proclaiming love with our mouths while still refusing equality with our actions. Lip service doesn’t translate into equity, and feeding the poor in Africa means little if you’re not willing to stand with the Black community who are being murdered right here in our own country.

“We’ve become experts at proclaiming love with our mouths while still refusing equality with our actions.”

Corrected Belief: Color matters. Racism is alive and well. It always has been alive and well in America. Our country was founded on the backs of Black slaves, and ending the Civil War did not eradicate racism. The difference now is that technology is making this impossible to ignore. Until we truly see people of color for who they are, we will never be able to call ourselves allies, nor help stop the injustices being done to them. We must value our differences, our diversity and that which makes each of us unique. We must stand in solidarity with the Black community and commit to fostering a country that honors the dignity of Black people, dismantles systemic racism and creates a world where all marginalized people can live free from fear.

The Bottom Line: Jesus always was found on the side of the marginalized and oppressed. If we truly want to model our lives after Jesus, we must look outside ourselves and think about the people around us — and see God in them. I believe if Jesus were physically present among us today, he would be marching in the streets protesting against police brutality and the murder of innocent Black people; he would be properly wearing a mask to keep businesses open and those around him safe; he would be begging us to care for the earth as fires take over the West ; he would be voting as if his life depended on it — because the lives of so many people do.

If you want to be like Jesus:

  • March.
  • Vote.
  • Speak out against injustice.
  • Stand with the marginalized and oppressed.

This is who Jesus always was and is. It is who we are called to be.

*To read the original article on Baptist News Global, click here.

My Baptist News Global article this month discusses shame and how what we’ve been taught to believe about our bodies affects the way we view both ourselves and God. I think it’s time we dismantle some of these harmful beliefs, don’t you?

Click below to read the full article.

“Who told you that you were naked?” God asked Adam and Eve in the Garden. It’s one of the first questions recorded in the Bible. From the very beginning, Evil has taught us that our bodies are bad. We’ve been told that we should not trust our bodies, our feelings, our emotions — that we should deny our very selves for the sake of God, of purity, of others…(read more).

Hey Friends,

If you’ve been on the fence about the book club, our 6-month line-up is confirmed and below are the books we will be reading first! Most of the authors have been confirmed as special guests during our meetings as well, so we are definitely in for a treat!

Registration ends this Saturday, August 15th! So if you or someone you know wants to join, don’t miss out! LGBTQ people and allies alike are encouraged to join. The registration window won’t open again until March 2021.

SCHEDULE FOR SEPT. 2020 – FEB. 2021:

September’s Book: “After Evangelicalism,” by David Gushee
Meeting Date: Monday, Sept. 28th, 6pm-8pm MST (This meeting will include an author interview with Rev. Dr. David Gushee!)

October’s Book: “Beyond Shame,” by Matthias Roberts
Meeting Date: Monday, October 26th, 6pm-8pm MST (This meeting will include an author interview with Matthias Roberts!)

November’s Book: “Unashamed,” by Amber Cantorna
Meeting Date: Monday, November 30th, 6pm-8pm MST (I look forward to discussing this with you!)

December’s Book: “Outside the Lines,” by Mihee Kim Kort
Meeting Date: December 28th, 6pm-8pm MST (Author appearance TBD)

January’s Book: “Transforming,” by Austen Hartke
Meeting Date: January 25th, 6pm-8pm MST (This meeting will include an author interview with Austen Hartke!)

February’s Book: “Undivided,” by Vicky Beeching
Meeting Date: February 22nd, 6pm-8pm MST (Author appearance TBD)

Time is running out, so if you want to join, don’t wait!

I can’t wait to have this adventure with you!!!
Amber Cantorna

Register Now!

Dear Friends,

Today, I have some hard news to share with you. After years of seeing doctors and chasing symptoms, I have finally found the answer to my continual health decline. It is not the answer that I wanted. I have tested positive and been diagnosed with Chronic Lyme Disease, along with TBRF (a co-infection of Lyme), EBV, and mold toxicity. These are the root causes of my symptoms, but the list of other ailments that have stemmed from them is long and often overwhelming.

Some of you have followed my health journey in recent years as I’ve battled chronic pain and fatigue, some of you have heard me talk about invisible disabilities from the stage, but most of what I’ve been battling, I’ve kept hidden from the public eye, not because I wanted to hide it, but because talking about something for which you don’t have a name is both difficult to describe and challenging for others to understand. So lately I’ve largely stayed silent as we continued to search for answers. And now we have them. And I am grateful that the searching is over. And yet, receiving this diagnosis comes with a mountain of difficult things to both process and learn.

“Most of what I’ve been battling, I’ve kept hidden from the public eye, not because I wanted to hide it, but because talking about something for which you don’t have a name is both difficult to describe and challenging for others to understand.”

Because life has taught me to be strong, I’ve been good at hiding the severity of my symptoms, often even from those closest to me:  the low-grade fevers, the swollen glands and rib soreness, the amount of energy it takes to stay engaged in conversation, the extreme fatigue that no amount of sleep can cure, the pain, the muscle aches, the crash days, the ways even the smallest of tasks can feel completely overwhelming…the list goes on and on. This has become my daily reality. This is my life with Chronic Lyme Disease.

“This has become my daily reality. This is my life with Chronic Lyme Disease.”

We have a long road ahead of us. There is no known cure for Chronic Lyme Disease. Only when you catch Lyme in the first few weeks of exposure is a full cure with antibiotics really possible. In my case, it has been living in my body for years…possibly my whole life. Lyme is a lot like cancer in that you treat it the best you can, hoping for it to go into remission…but you’re never really “cured.” My goal is to find the best treatments I can, from the best doctors I can, that will provide the most healing possible, and the best quality of life moving forward. But it will be long and slow.

What about writing and speaking? Honestly, there’s a lot I still don’t know. With the impact of COVID-19 and my immune system being so severely compromised, I am currently unable to leave my house for anything other than essentials. I am accepting virtual speaking engagements to stay as engaged as possible and financially afloat. For me, speaking and connecting with others is the highlight of what I do. I am writing a monthly column for Baptist News Global. Beyond that, I don’t know what things will look like yet. So much is so uncertain for all of us right now. As I begin treatment, I will know more in time.

What about the book club? The book club will continue as planned. I actually received this diagnosis before the book club was launched. It’s just taken me a few weeks (okay, two months) to get my head and heart wrapped around it enough to be able to share this with you. However, the book club and all the plans behind it remain intact and it is a project I’m truly excited about. This is the last week for registration, and I hope you will join me.

How Can I Help? Your support and encouragement mean the world to me. I love snail mail. I appreciate your notes, gifts, and check-ins. Currently, I try to respond to every message that I get, but moving forward, please know that I read every one of them, even if I am unable to respond. The obvious burden besides the physical/emotional/mental toll this all takes, is the financial toll. Treatment is expensive and often not covered by insurance, traveling to speak right now is impossible (which is typically my biggest income generator), and concentrating on work is challenging. Things like joining Patreon and registering for the book club help keep me afloat. Hiring me or recommending me to speak is also very much appreciated. And of course, hearing from you and knowing how my work has made an impact in your life always lifts my spirits, even on my hardest days.

Today I began treatment, the first step in a long journey. I may not feel strong, but I know that I have you behind me. And because of that, I will continue to be brave.

Know that I love and cherish each of you.

Keep Being Brave and Living Wildly Unashamed,
Amber Cantorna

Good Morning Friends!

Today is the day! Registration for the LGBTQ Faith Book Club is NOW OPEN! Remember, space is limited, so if you (and a friend!) are wanting to join, don’t wait! You can visit the link below to get all the details or to register.

Learn More and Register Now Here!

I hope to see many of your beautiful faces in this group! This will be a great opportunity to read, learn, and build community together with other like-minded people. It’s going to be a great adventure!

So excited to do this with you,
Amber

Hey Friends,

Just a quick reminder that registration for our upcoming LGBTQ Faith Book Club launches this Thursday at 10am MST! Be watching for an email to arrive in your inbox on Thursday morning with the link. I would LOVE to have you join us!

You can view all the information about it HERE! 

Remember, space is limited, so if you (and a friend!) are wanting to join, don’t wait!

I hope to see many of your beautiful faces in this group! This will be a great opportunity to read, learn, and build community together with other like-minded people. I can’t wait to have this adventure with you!

Amber Cantorna

IT’S A GO! After putting some feelers out this week, it looks like we have enough interest to launch our very first LGBTQ Faith Book Club! Here’s how this will go down:

*People who showed initial interest will have the chance to register first! (If you have not yet expressed interest but want to be added, please reply to this email or comment on the book club social media post. Names will be added in the order I receive them.)

*Sign-ups will happen beginning July 23rd (with a min. of 20 people required to launch). Once registration is complete, the book club members will be added to a private Facebook group and provided a list of potential books to read. They will have the opportunity to vote for their favorites and that is how the book list will be formed. The book club will then officially launch in September.

*This book club is open to all people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and faiths. Allies, parents, pastors, family members, etc. of the LGBTQ+ community are also welcome to join. All you need is a desire to learn and grow.

*Each month, weekly discussion questions will be provided in the within the private Facebook group for members to engage. At the end of each month we will host a virtual gathering (via Zoom or some other platform) and dialogue about the book…ideally with the author! (Note: While the author’s presence is the hope of each book chosen, it is not guaranteed as authors will not be approached until membership has reached its 20 person min. and book list has been selected).

*There will be a $25/month membership fee with a 6 or 12 month commitment. (Those wanting to pay month to month will have a higher fee.) Patreon members will receive a 10% discount.

*Maximum group size will be limited to 50 to allow for deep dialogue and engagement.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED, MARK YOUR CALENDARS! Registration will begin July 23rd and will only be open to the first 50 people who sign-up!

I can’t wait to have this adventure with you!!!

Amber Cantorna

 

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