Today’s blog is a real treat, it’s a guest blog from my friend, Amber Cantorna. Amber is the daughter of a Focus on the Family executive and also a gay women. She has shared her story of coming out and the painful loss of her family in the memoir Refocusing My Family. I read the book after I met Amber, and was amazed to hear the tragic yet hopeful story of my new friend. The book was incredible. I couldn’t put it down. Even though my story is very different from hers, I found myself nodding along. Hers is a clear, open, compassionate, and honest voice that is very important in the LGBT+ Christian community, and far beyond. I’m so happy to share her post with you today. You’re going to love it.

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Today 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 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.

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.

Amber Cantorna is an author, blogger, and sought-after speaker on topics of LGBTQ and faith. As the founder and president of Beyond, she strives to help others reconcile their faith with their sexuality and successfully navigate their own coming out process. You can subscribe to Amber’s blog by visiting her website or follow her on social media @AmberNCantorna.

***I have many conservative Christian readers who are not used to this type of post. I invite you to walk a moment in the shoes of another. I invite you to suspend your beliefs for a moment and see through our eyes, the eyes of those who fully affirm LGBT love and gender and also fully embrace our faith in God. You’re perspective will be there waiting when you are done reading, you can pick it up right where you left it, but you will be able to better understand us for taking this moment to see the world as we do.***

God’s love is something I see again and again in the queer community.

God is like my two friends, gay men who found each other after years of loneliness. I see them sweetly lean in towards each other during casual conversation, simple acts revealing deep affection. After decades of partnership they were united during the first wave of legal same-sex marriage in California days before prop 8 made marriage illegal again.

God’s affection is deep, and he never loses an opportunity for love.

God is like my friend who holds the tension of being Seventh-day Adventist and lesbian. Her bookcases filled with Adventist commentaries, Review & Herald titles, and shelves of Ellen White; her kitchen full of vegan fair; but she can’t find a church where she’s accepted for all she is. Still she holds the tension.

God holds the tension, believing in us even when we fail his children.

God is like the man I met who was studying to be a Catholic priest. He laughs and tells me half the candidates for priesthood were gay, then talks about the man he met 50 years ago who put an end to his studies and has been his partner ever since. They have loved each other since a time when their love could land them in prison.

God is willing to go to prison for love.

God is like the transgender woman who shows up for church every week, still willing to invest in the denomination that once made her life unlivable. She’s in leadership now, happy to have found a church that is more interested in supporting LGBT people than bowing to the will of the institution.

God forgives.

God is like Harvey Milk, who knew that his political career as a gay man and activist would probably get him killed. Before he was assasinated, he left a last political will and testament for us to follow. He urged us to stop hiding and stand up for what is right, hopeful that his death would be an inspiration.

God died for us and urges us to follow this path.

God is like the thousands and millions of LGBT people and our courageous allies who show up and refuse to hide in the face of bigotry, hate, and violence. We refuse to be silent, refuse to pretend we are just friends, refuse to change who we are to pass as straight. We are not not satisfied with systems that oppress us, religions that shame us, and media that dismisses us. Neither is God.

God’s love is queer.

So where is God in the LGBT community? God is everywhere.

Last night was my dad’s memorial service. I delayed my coming out because of his illness. I knew that he was already struggling with his own mortality and that trying to reconcile the daughter he was so proud of and loved deeply with the ideas he had about LGBT people would be too much for him. He was the kind of guy who, when he saw a same-sex couple on a TV show, would exclaim how gross it was, change the channel, and never watch that show again.

I don’t regret never telling my dad, and I don’t think I ever will. It’s the reality of the situation that what he would think if I told him I’m queer is 10,000 miles away from what I would mean. He would think I was denying God. I know I am following God. He would believe I was embracing sin and sexual deviance. I know I am rejecting hate and embracing the true and good heart I have been given.

It was the right call. But that didn’t change the fact that after he breathed his last breath, I looked down at his body and realized that my father would never know me for who I am. I began to sob. I wanted things to be different. I wanted the world to be different. I wanted the man who brought me into the world and was one of the first two people to ever love me to know this beautiful, wonderful part of myself. But he couldn’t.

Last night we went to the church where I am a pastor, and we honored the memory of my dad. The service was beautiful. People I have known since I was a child talked about what a wonderful man my father was, and every word was true. They embraced me, told me they love me, and told me over and over again how proud dad was of me. He was proud of his little girl who became a pastor.

The outpouring of loved I received these last few days, and especially last night at the memorial, has been exceptional. I can’t recall ever being so loved and supported. I’ve lost track of the number of people who told me they are happy to help with anything I need. Everyone answers when I call. Everyone does exactly what I ask of them. Everyone’s hearts are broken for me. Everyone is anxious to show me how much they love me.

This is Christian community at its best. It is a thing to behold. It is true, it is good, and it is the heart of the gospel. And when I come out in a few weeks, and tell them that I affirm my bisexual identity, it will be broken forever.

Today, my choice to be a pastor affirms everything they want to believe about God and the church. But soon affirmation will turn to threat because I’ve taken a different view on a handful of Bible passages, and more importantly because I’ve come to love this part of myself that loves women.

I won’t be able to pastor this or any other Adventist church after that. These same people won’t listen to my sermons online, praise my ministry, and tell me how proud they are of me for being an Adventist pastor.

My father would not have been proud of me had he lived long enough to see me be honest about what I believe and who I am.

This is perhaps the worst part of the church’s anti-queer theology. It breaks something beautiful. Christian community can be a beautiful thing if you are straight. If you are queer like I am, the cost is silence and shame. That cost is too high. Even those who are a dedicated allies and speak too loudly on my behalf often experience the cost becoming too high for them. Silence is demanded of anyone who would speak out. How could I pastor in a church that is harming people like me? How could I ignore the compassion of the Bible and still pastor with integrity?

If you are queer in a traditional Christian church, your choices are impossible. You must be willing to demonize your same-sex attraction, hide it, or both. The church will offer you shame and disgrace, and you must receive it no matter how you struggle against it. You must live with the constant sense of being other. When people say homophobic and ignorant things, you must hold your tongue. Falling in love must become something you fear. This is the cost of remaining comfortably in this community.

If your experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself desperately clinging to any shred of hope that maybe you can just be same-sex attracted and not queer. Maybe these are just thoughts and feelings and not the truth about who you are, how you see the world, and how you experience love and family.

And all of this will impact your mental health in ways you may not even know. I didn’t know, not until I learned to love the way I love did I finally see how much sadness and loneliness I lived with all my life. Not until I experienced the sharp joy of affirmation from God did I discover that my love for women is a gift.

But I can’t embrace this truth about myself and the world and still have my place in this Christian community. I can’t be queer and have my father be proud of me. These are the impossible choices LGBT people in traditionalist churches face.

Our communities are beautiful, but they aren’t working for everyone. That is a problem. Ignoring this problem is ignoring the heart and soul of the gospel.  The gospel was never intended to be only for the right kind of people, but for everyone.