My Dear Friends, This last weekend, I had the rare and incredible opportunity to gather with a group of 50 women from across America for a unique conference experience titled “She is Called.” Together we had discussions around the topics of sex and power, intersectionality and equity, and prevention and repair. We made art, we did yoga, we encouraged one another, we laughed together, we cried together, and we bonded in a way that only women can. It was magical. I admit I was highly hesitant to walk into a space of all Christian women given my previous experience with evangelical women’s retreats in the past. The last thing I wanted to do was sit around in dresses, drink tea, and talk about purity and submission. But this was far, far from that. It was rich with conversation, deep with emotion, and all about empowering one another to fulfill our calling in these progressive and inclusive spaces. Not at all like my previous women’s retreat experiences! These women were small business owners, pastors, artists, leaders of non-profit organizations, marriage podcasters, sex therapists, and just about every other beautiful occupation you can imagine for a woman to make roots in. For many years prior to coming out, I was an avid journaller and musician. And while I’ve done a lot of writing and blogging since coming out, I’ve struggled to reclaim the artist, songwriter, poet side of me. But being around such powerful women this weekend awakened something inside of me that I’ve been struggling to arouse on my own. And during one of our contemplation periods, a poem of sorts emerged from my soul. It wasn’t even what I had planned to write about, it’s just what came out. At the end of our weekend together, we held an Open Mic. This is what I shared:
I am Me
Coming out six years ago, the price of authenticity was high. Nothing will ever be able to erase the memory of the anger on my dad’s face As he compared my being gay to murders, pedophiles, and bestiality, Or the look in my mom’s eyes as she told me she felt like I had died. Nothing will ever make me forget my dad asking for the keys to his house back Saying he no longer trusted me to have open access to my only childhood home.
In that moment, I wanted to die As all that I loved and held dear was being ripped From the threads of the fabric of my soul. The gift of authenticity felt like it left me with nothing But the dusty remains of what once was.
Surviving one awful day at a time, I grasped for particles of hope But only continued to lose more Of the relationships I held dear as time went on. My parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, friends, and church All labeling me as abominable, As if I deserved to share a prison cell with a rapist or a serial killer Simply for loving a woman instead of a man.
When did love become a crime? When did feeling alive become something worthy of being damned to hell? If peace and honesty and vulnerability and transparency Can’t be something we value and hold space for Then I am already in hell as it is.
The first twenty-seven years of my life felt like hell As I wrestled with something that was nameless and unrecognizable Because of my sheer lack of exposure to diversity of any kind Yet ate away at my soul day by day, Causing depression, anxiety, fear, self-hatred, self-injury, and suicidal ideations.
No, coming out did not damn my soul to hell. It set my soul free! Free to release myself from perfection, Free to take off the mask, Free to let go of the expectations of others, To release myself from the burden of protecting appearances, To finally feel ALIVE. Yes, I came ALIVE the day I came out. Even in all its heartache, These past six years have been the best years of my life. I finally get to be ME.
And as I move forward, I will continue to embrace vulnerability, authenticity, Courage, wholeheartedness, and true belonging In all its gifts and forms Because that is the essence of life in its fullest capacity.
And I will live!
There is nothing that I am not worthy of.
I am ME.
© Amber Cantorna, 5-18-18Go boldly into the world my friend. Claim your space. You are brave, bruised, and beautiful. There is nothing you’re not worthy of! Because Love Makes All the Difference, Amber Cantorna
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 mother/daughter bonding moments. 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.
Six Mother’s Days have now passed without my mother. I wish I could say it’s gotten easier, but the pain still lingers.
There’s still 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 six 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, on 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, understanding 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.
And 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,
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. 🙂
This week I have the exciting privilege of featuring another guest blog by my friend, Alicia Johnston. Alicia was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. Here are some tips from her about how to engage in the important dialogue of LGBT+ inclusion.
Enjoy and share around!
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
When I came out about a year ago, I did it in the most explosive way possible, with a video I shared on social media. I followed that up with my website, blogging about LGBT+ affirmation in Christian spaces. Before coming out, I was a pastor in a conservative denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Losing that career and becoming an advocate for change has meant a lot of conversations with people who do not affirm any but heterosexual relationships. I have made so many mistakes. If you’ve been following me, you will probably have seen some of them. And I have learned so much. I would like to share some of those things with you today.
In sharing these lessons learned, I make no apologies about one thing: I am trying to be persuasive. I want people to change their minds and be affirming. I think this is a holy pursuit.
1. Are You Okay to Have This Conversation?
This will always be the first step. You are under no obligation to engage in any conversation no matter what the circumstances. This is even more true is someone is pressuring you. Hold your ground.
It is very difficult for those of us who are LGBT+ to have conversations with people about the legitimacy of our lives. It’s emotionally taxing, and for many of us it brings up past wounds. How healed are you from those wounds? How are you feeling today? How do you feel about this person? Is this the right conversation for you?
You cannot count on your conversation partner to understand what it’s like for you, especially online. In my experience, most of the straight/cis people who understand are already allies.
Christians are told repeatedly that they can love people even if their theology is different on this matter. In real life, that translate into a sense that they can say what they believe without expecting it to hurt you, as long as they aren’t too harsh. Sometimes even if they are harsh. I’ve seen it again and again. In most cases, I really do think they don’t know what they are doing.
So you can’t rely on them to protect your feelings. You have to know if you’re ready. Keep in mind, if you are LGBT+, the best thing you can do to change the world is be a healthy, happy, and unashamed person. Live well. Live out. Be open about your faith. Guard your own health and happiness.
2. Is This Person Already Convinced?
You must know who you are talking to and why. Most people can are in one of three camps. They are either totally on board with LGBT+ inclusion, totally against it, or in the moveable middle.
Those who are totally certain will not change their viewpoint.
You can kill yourself trying to explain the same thing for the hundredth time and they will still somehow not understand it. They will say things that are stigmatizing or pejorative, and they will never come to acknowledge or change this. You could pour out a heartbreaking story and they would just say feelings don’t matter and we have to do what’s right. You could talk about suicide statistics and mental health and they would feel like you’re manipulating them. They compare your love to pornography and adultery and think it’s compassionate. They won’t read any books. They won’t question what they believe.
You will not convince these people. They will be convinced only when their friends who are in the moveable middle change their opinions, or if someone they love and respect comes out. Even then they often stick to their guns. You can’t do it, especially if you’re LGBT+. Just accept that and be okay with it.
Unfortunately, these people are most vocal online. The people who are open to change usually don’t comment much.
I propose two different strategies for the people who are totally against LGBT+ affirmation:
In person: Don’t give them your time and energy. Suggest they read an LGBT+ affirming book or two, but don’t let them suck you in unless for some reason you’re feeling like a vigorous and unproductive debate about your legitimacy as a person. They won’t read the book unless its to get you to read one of their books. If they were open to change, they would read the book.
Online: Don’t try to convince them of anything. You might want to engage, but only for the sake of those who are reading. Be reasonable. Be kind. Make good points in a way that is brief. Be confident about both your faith and sexuality or gender identity. Remind them of the existence of LGBT+ Christians.
3. Is This Person Open to Learning and Growth?
Thank God, there are people who are open to change. These people are worth talking to.
Most of the people in the moveable middle are kind of like undecided voters. They usually haven’t thought about it enough to form a strong opinion. Though some have thought about it and are conflicted. They will probably not be well informed, but they won’t be purposefully dismissive or pejorative like the other group, at least not on purpose. They will be more responsive to a well-spoken correction if they say something disrespectful.
What works really well for these people is talking about your similarities. LGBT+ people have families, work hard, have children, go to church, etc. I’m going to level with you and tell you that it really bothers me that this is true. We should be respected and cared for whether we are similar to someone else or not. Yet it’s undeniable that the best way to remind people about the humanity of queer people is to show them that we are similar to them. It works very well.
These are people who will care about your story, and you should tell it to them. Much like the undecided voter, what some of them need most is a reason to care. If they have questions about theology, answer them if you can, or give them a source to turn to such as a book, website, or organization.
Sometimes all these people need is to get a few questions answered and they are onboard. If that’s the case, say hallelujah! Many have put in work before you and you got to see the transformation.
4. Show Respect, Expect Respect
The first person to say “you obviously” loses. Seriously. When someone feels attacked they will get defensive. If you’re at the place where someone is attacking you and you feel yourself getting defensive, you probably want to extract yourself from that conversation.
When I first came out, which I did so publicly and jumped right into online advocacy for LGBT+ people, there were a lot of people who were deeply disrespectful. As time went on I got more and more comfortable with the reality that the block button was my friend.
My list of blocked people is probably a lot longer than a lot of people’s friend list.
I’m not exaggerating. My coming out video was spun into a crazy conspiracy theory by a fringe religious extremist group. Their video about me was seen tens of thousands of times. As a result, I had a lot of people looking me up to tell me I was leading people to hell. Some of them come right out and say it. Some of them try really hard to act reasonable to make me feel like I couldn’t block them.
They would say things like, “you don’t want discussion on this group or you wouldn’t delete comments.” Or “I bet you’ll just block me.” At first I let this manipulate me, not wanting to prove them right. Now I just block them.
People will also say things like, “you shouldn’t post things on facebook if you aren’t willing to have a conversation about it.” So I just kindly but firmly tell them that I don’t share things on facebook for debate; I share them to share them. I don’t believe that facebook is a good forum for genuine conversation, so that’s not how I run my page.
It’s totally okay to do this. Those people are trying to hijack your platform to say something to your friends and followers. At the risk of sounding disillusioned, I can tell you that case after case after case has taught me that they are not being genuine. So don’t hesitate to push block.
That’s level one respect, but to be truly impactful in a conversation you need a whole new level. You need to understand them. If you have found someone interested in real dialogue, do spend time trying to understand them. If you are writing persuasively, don’t use straw man arguments and don’t assume people have bad motives.
Most people are doing the best they can. Foster compassion in yourself. If you’re like me, you’ve been on the wrong side of this in the past. Try to be patient, especially with those who genuinely do love you, like family and close friends, while always balancing that patience with caring for yourself. Sometimes you will need more distance from people.
Remember, people are not an obstacle to over come, they have lives, feelings, fears, and hopes. They bring all those things to each conversation. You can’t persuade someone against their will. You can’t force anyone to see things differently. Sometimes being too strong will only cause them to fight back harder.
The hardest thing Jesus commanded was that we love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. This doesn’t mean we can’t step away if we aren’t receiving respect, but it does mean we should foster a heart of grace and understanding.
5. Give Hope and Security
With the incredible efforts of LGBT+ people and allies, the lives of queer people have improved exponentially over the last several decades. Many churches have even gotten much, much better. There are many reasons for hope. So embrace hope.
When you’re talking to others, realize that if they were raised to fear what churches refer to as homosexuality, they are probably afraid for you, afraid for society, and afraid to affirm LGBT+ people for fear of cooperating with the forces of evil. That’s a lot to be afraid about. You can give hope.
Tell them about the great things queer people are doing and how they have wonderful lives, families, and faith communities. Cast a different vision than the vision of fear they have been given. And reassure them that God’s ability to save is not dependent on our ability to be right.
Perfect love casts out all fear, and fear has always been the greatest tool of those who are anti-LGBT+. That’s why it’s called homophobia. So remind them of God’s love for everyone. Remind them that God is not looking for us to mess up, but is leading us patiently and gracefully to greater love.
Alicia Johnston was a pastor in the Seventh-Day Adventist Church before coming out as bisexual in 2017. She is now an advocate for LGBT+ inclusion in the church. You can visit her website at aliciajohnston.com
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 weeks that followed, 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 that followed, 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,
*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.
My Dear Friends,
Greetings from Denver, CO! I am finally home in my own town for awhile after months of traveling and speaking, and am breathing a sigh of contentment tinged with sadness as I write to you. I’m sad because I’ve gotten to meet so many of you on the road these past many months and you’ve filled my heart with joy and I don’t want it to end. But I’m content because of the stories you are telling me of the work God is doing in your hearts and lives.
As I prepare to celebrate Easter this Sunday, I’ve been thinking this week about the idea of the “end of the beginning.” In the last six months since Refocusing My Family released last October, we have traveled just under 20,000 miles and spoken at 25 different events nation-wide. Ranging from universities in Los Angeles, to churches in North Carolina, to bookstores in Seattle, we have met some of the kindest and warmest people on the planet (many of you have been among them!).
Being on the road has stretched my wife and I in so many ways – physically, emotionally, relationally, and financially. But the reward in the form of the stories we’ve heard and the people we’ve met has brought fulfillment in its deepest forms. I’ve gotten countless emails and met hundreds of people who have read Refocusing My Family who’ve said they couldn’t put it down, or they felt like they were reading their own life on paper, or this book gave them hope for the very first time, or changed the way they view therapy with their LGBT clients, or helped them understand their child better, or changed their stance on LGBTQ inclusion in the church.
One 17-year-old girl messaged me and said, “I tried to kill myself because I didn’t believe that you could be both gay and Christian. I found your book in the psych ward, and it saved my life.” Whew…after being both incredibly humbled, and grateful for whoever put my book there, it is stories like those that keep me pressing on for equality each day. My heart is full.
As we wind down the official portion our RMF book tour, people are asking me, “What’s next? Is this the end?”
- First, let me say, No. This is not the end. This is only the beginning. This may be the official “end” of the Refocusing My Family book tour, but it is only the beginning of the speaking, writing, and advocacy work I plan to do in the future.
- If I did not make it to your city on this portion of the RMF tour, that doesn’t mean it’s too late! We are still more than happy to continue booking RMF events going forward wherever there is a need. We are also branching out to speak in more conferences, organizations, and similar capacities. So if you are interested in booking me to speak at one of your events, visit my website and reach out to me with more information! We also have plans to expand into Canada later this summer! So keep up with me on social media and on my website for more info.
- We already have a second book in the making! I am going under contract with a publishing company this week for a second book which I am SO excited about. It is the book all of you have been asking me for and as soon as we are officially under contract, I will tell you more about it!
- I will be having foot surgery on April 24th. During this time, I will be accepting all forms of chocolate, letters, flowers, and candy. But in all honesty, even though no one jumps for joy at the thought of having surgery, I am looking forward to devoting those 6 weeks of recovery to writing this second book. The forced down time will be well spent!
So that is what is next on the horizon! Even though we’ve concluded the end of this RMF book tour season, it is only the end of the beginning and we are so excited for what is to come as we move forward.
As you move into your Easter weekend, let me leave you with this:
Love is the beginning. Love is the end. And love is everything in between. Easter is an annual way for all of us to celebrate the end of the beginnings in our lives. Jesus died on Friday causing all his friends and family to think it was the end of everything they had dreamed of and hoped for. But in reality, it was only the beginning. Sunday came and with it, death was brought to life and all things were made new.
So as you examine your life and heart this Holy Week, think of those things in your life that cause you to feel like you’re at the end. Maybe you’re exhausted physically, maybe you’re emotionally at the end of your rope, maybe your job is demanding more of you than you have to give, or your family continues to challenge your worth and identity leaving you feeling hopeless.
If that is you this week, remember this: Jesus loves you so deeply. Christ came for no other reason than to tell you that one thing–you are loved. You are loved completely. You are loved fully. You are loved because of (not in spite of) who you are. Know that in the depths of your soul. Speak it to your heart. Drink it in. Lay to rest all that drains the life from your being and know…resurrection Sunday is coming. All things are being made new. This is only the end of the beginning.
As we journey on together, may you find peace in the knowledge that you are completely and fully loved by God exactly as you are. Breathe it in like the rising and setting of the sun which is new each and every day.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
At the end of April I’m going to be having surgery on my left foot. It’s nothing life-threatening (so don’t worry too much!) but no foot surgery is pleasant, and this one will take about 6 weeks to recover from. Because I already deal with so much chronic pain, I saw several different physicians before deciding which would do the surgery with the goal of finding the best care possible.
One of the four doctors I saw informed me that this particular surgery could actually be done with just a local anesthetic. I looked at him quizzically.
“You mean that you can cut my foot open, shave down my bone, break the bone in half, realign it, secure it with screws, and sew it back up ALL while I’m awake???”
“Yes!” he confirmed with a smile.
“NO!” I responded emphatically. That’s a horrible idea! It is worse than going to the dentist and trusting that they put enough Novocain in your face to numb whatever they are about to drill on. I may have a certain degree of bravery that allows very long needles to be put into my spine on a regular basis, but I also have a great deal of foresight. Undergoing only a local anesthetic means that I could SEE my foot being cut open. It means that I could HEAR my bone being sawed and cut in half. It means that I could SMELL the heat of the bone being drilled down. And it means that I could FEEL the pressure of everything that was happening. Even if they give you one of those headsets to watch a movie while they do it to hypothetically “distract you” from what is really happening to your body, no amount of Scandal or This is Us would take my mind off of what was really going on. No, even bravery has its limits.
I’m sure it won’t surprise you then when I tell you that I chose a different surgeon. In fact, even though it means traveling several hours, I chose the one that I felt was the best and would give me the best care. This clinic is one of the top in the world for their field and therefore I trust their surgeons, their procedures, and their methods as among the best of the best with hopes of a 100% recovery. But every kind of surgery takes trust. Trust in the doctor’s knowledge, in their skills, in their steady hand, and in their judgment.
It’s the same with God. To allow God access to a piece of our heart that is hurting or broken, we first have to trust him. Trust that it is safe to be vulnerable. Trust that we will be loved and embraced. And trust that we will be given the best care in the midst of our pain.
It’s not always easy to trust. Even though I know the doctor that routinely does my prolotherapy is skilled, I still get nervous every time that needle goes into my spine. But the important thing is, I want to be well. And that desire to be healed and whole is greater than my fear. At least on most days.
So will you trust God with me, with your brokenness and your pain? Will you join with me in relying on the Great Physician to heal all our wounded places? Come and let’s take a step of faith together.
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
“DID YOU NOT KNOW WHAT THE HOLY ONE CAN DO WITH DUST?”
These words have been sitting on the ground of my soul for the past week. I can’t shake them or the power they hold to resonate so deeply within me.
It’s been 5 years since I’ve attended an Ash Wednesday service. Lent was frequently observed in our household growing up; but as an adult, there have been some years that I’ve chosen to observe Lent and others that I haven’t. Some years, because of my religious background, the pressure to conform to a custom simply for the sake of ritual (or to me, what feels like “measuring up”) has felt too cumbersome. Other years it has felt inviting, like an anchor that grounds me or gives me direction in life. Some years I have given something up, while other years I have added something to my life for that season.
This year was the first time that my wife and I attended an Ash Wednesday service together. At first I thought I was going more for her than for me. I had experienced this tradition before, she had not. But entering the silent sanctuary of our church, I realized I was wrong. I needed to be in this space. Sitting in quiet reflection in a room lit only with candles, those small flames felt like beacons of hope. There was a peace present that my heart had been craving. I tried hard to slow my breathing and ground myself in the silence and calm provided. We were led through a time of reflection, a time of reverent worship, and an explanation of the significance of this tradition before then receiving the ashes.
In years past, I’ve heard phrases like, “From dust you came, and to dust you will return” spoken as a solemn reminder of our humanity. But this year, I heard something different. This year, I heard a poem by Jan Richardson that was more than a depressing reminder of how mortal we are. Instead, it was a breath of life that reminded us what God can do with us mere mortals.
The phrase Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust? struck me and my eyes welled with tears. It was like God breathing life into me, just like he did all those years ago when he created Adam, the very first man. Going forward to receive the ashes, a fellow congregant cupped my head in her hands, locked eyes with me, and said, “Did you not know what the Holy One can do with dust?”
I couldn’t contain my tears. So much of my life has felt marked by sorrow and shame and loss. So many hopes tainted by the dust of life, by common humanity, by mortality, by choices of selfish ambition, or even good intentions gone wrong. And yet…and yet, we forget what God, the Holy One, can do with dust. We underestimate his power to redeem and make beauty from the ashes. We forget that God is good and that he loves to meet us when we are at our lowest, and rescue and redeem and reclaim all that has been lost.
One of my favorite stories from the Bible is the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees, catching her in the act, took her and threw her down in the dirt in front of a crowd for public ridicule. Yet Jesus, instead of condemning her the way the Pharisees expected, got down next to her in the dirt and wrote something in the dust that remains a mystery to us, yet clearly brought life and healing to this embarrassed woman.
Sometimes sitting in the dust of our humanity is the best place to be. It is humbling. It is authentic. It is honest and God meets us there.
If I could see you face to face today, I would cup your face in my hands and gently ask you, “Did you not know what the Holy One could do with dust?”
Hello Dear Friends!
Greetings post GCN/QCF conference! For those of you who weren’t there, the Gay Christian Network (as of this last week) has officially been renamed Q Christian Fellowship and we just finished a fantastic weekend together in Denver, CO! Thank you to each one who joined us, who visited me at my exhibit booth, who came to my workshop with Susan Cottrell, and who stopped me in the hall to share your story with me. It was truly and honor to meet each of you and allow our life stories to intersect. A few things I want you all to know:
- If you came to my workshop on “Navigating Life and Relationships with Non-Affirming Parents”, thank you! I realize 60 minutes was not nearly enough to delve deeply into all the things on your hearts and I have already informed the powers that be that this workshop needs a 90 minute slot next year. There were so many questions that I know we didn’t get to and I want you to know that I value each of your journeys and hearts right where they are right now. If you are one of the many people who did not get your question answered at the breakout, don’t panic, because….
- You can still have a voice! I am already working on some new resources around this topic of navigating your way out of the closet as a gay Christian, especially for those of us who come from conservative Christian backgrounds. Tools and resources on this subject are clearly needed and I am working to get them to you. So if you have thoughts, feelings, or questions you would like to be taken into consideration as I assemble the data for these resources, please take a minute to complete this brief 5 question survey. I would SO value your input!
- If you did NOT make it to the workshop, but still want to take it in, we now have it available on video to watch and share with your friends! You can view it by clicking the link below!
4. If you did not get a chance to purchase a copy of Refocusing My Family, you can do that on Amazon by clicking HERE.
5. Finally, if you want a direct link to the Resources that I mentioned during the workshop, you can access them by clicking this link. If you want the downloadable version, scroll to the bottom of the page.
Thank you all again so much for joining us this past weekend. I truly had a wonderful time meeting so many of you and really hope you will take just a few minutes to answer the survey. You voice is welcomed and wanted even if you did not attend QCF!
Take care and know each of you are dearly loved!
Because Love Makes All the Difference,
P.S. If you want to see the TV interview that I recently did with PBS while I was in NYC, you can watch it now by clicking here!
I grew up in a very certain world. My dad worked in a prominent position at Focus on the Family and my mom was both the homemaker and the primary home-school teacher to my brother and I. My dad was home by 5:15pm every night and my mom always had dinner on the table. My mornings started with family devotions over breakfast at 7am and ended with family dinners that often included Scripture memory. Church was on Sunday mornings and Awana’s on Wednesday night. I had the coveted Christian upbringing and the epitome of a “godly family.” Life was scheduled, predictable, and safe.
But this certainty came with a pricetag. Our list of rules and regulations of how to live and love others caused us to not only exist within a very confined space but it also forced us to wear a façade. The tiniest bit of doubt or unbelief was seen as weakness. Although it wasn’t overtly stated, the underlying belief was that if you had enough faith and trusted God enough, you should have your shit together. But of course, no one really has all their shit together, so instead, we just pretended like we did. We hid the broken pieces of our lives behind a happy smile or a “I’m blessed” response when asked how we were doing. If people didn’t see our mess, then hypothetically, it didn’t exist.
While causing us to hide our true selves, this also caused a level of judgment when it came to our fellow believers. If they were going through a difficult time or experiencing hardship, we first, took pity on them, and second, concluded that it was most likely due to a lack of faith (aka certainty). We then committed to praying for them. So in essence, we had this Christian thing figured out and they were still working on getting it figured out. See where I’m heading?
Everything was black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. We had all the answers. We were certain. It was so easy to judge the lives of others, so easy to point a finger or make an accusation with these “right” and “wrong” tools we possessed.
It was easy, until that person experiencing hardship became you.
Then when something unexpected happens in your life (a diagnosis, the loss of a child, a divorce, or the discovery of an LGBT identity), you suddenly begin to see things very differently.
At first, we often put ourselves under the same scrutiny that we would for others.
What did I do wrong?
Why can’t I fix this?
Maybe I really don’t have enough faith.
I promise I’ll try harder God, if only (fill in the blank).
We beg and we bargain with God to take away the pain so our certain and sure footing can be restored.
But we’ve completely missed the point.
A belief system based on certainty doesn’t really require any faith at all! If we have everything figured out, if we have all the answers, what do we need faith for?
Faith and certainty aren’t intended to mix as we so often do with them in Christian circles. Faith is awe and mystery, questioning and wondering, room to breathe and room for the unknown. Faith is belief in the absence of certainty. That is true faith. That is true dependence on God.
Before I came out as gay, I thought I had most the answers. I’d admit I didn’t know everything, but I was pretty comfortable inside my box and the box I had put God in. Stepping out into my true identity and embracing myself for who God made me to be, now that required faith. I knew coming out could have a price tag. I knew it would be questioned among my family and peers. I knew it could potentially cost me everything. But I wasn’t prepared for the fact that it actually would.
Losing absolutely everything (my family, my relatives, my friend, my church, my hometown) required faith unlike anything I’d ever known. I was completely and utterly dependent on God to survive, to pull me through, and to provide for me. I had nothing. I lost it all in the face of authenticity. Suddenly, I didn’t have it all as together as I thought.
Not having it all together, not having all the answers, not knowing what the future held, yet taking each step forward as God asked it of me, took more faith than anything I’d ever faced before.
People sometimes ask me, “How do you know with 100% certainty that God approves of you sexuality and marriage to your wife,” and I say, “I don’t. Not anymore than you are 100% certain that God approves of your sexuality (gay or straight) and your marriage to your wife/husband.” I’m relying on faith. True faith that leads me to complete reliance on the fact that God is loving and good, and he doesn’t make mistakes. And faith in the belief that good trees produce good fruits and that is what I am seeing in my life today.
I would never return to the life of certainty I once led, even though it was far more comfortable. Faith may require discomfort and being stretched outside my box, but it has also led me to a much deeper, richer, and more fulfilling life. I am more happy, more free, and more complete now than I’ve ever been because I choose daily to let go of certainty, and walk and live in faith.
Will you join me?
Because Love Makes All the Difference,