Lessons from Amber Cantorna's "Refocusing My Family"

The past couple of weeks have been an awesome season of refreshment for me as I've been able to approach this blog with a fresh perspective. In this season, I've gotten to start some reading that I've wanted to get to for months—and then Amber Cantorna's book released, putting a halt to all my plans! It appeared that the dust would continue to gather on my other books because I had to buy and read this book as fast as possible.

Cantorna's recently released book, Refocusing My Family Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God is a painful and inspiring firsthand account of the powerful Christian community's struggle to accept and affirm LGBTQ individuals who have chosen non-celibate lifestyles. Here's the twist, Cantorna is the daughter of a high-level executive at Focus on the Family, an organization known by some LGBTQ individuals as the belly of the beast. In her book, Cantorna takes readers on a heartbreaking journey of addiction, conflict and personal restoration. Here are just four takeaways I left with as I closed the book:

1. We Fake Perfection At Our Own Peril

Amber expresses an emotional rawness that we Christians desperately need to see, acknowledge and repair. Amber writes:

"Since [my parents'] disagreements always took place behind closed doors, I never got to see my parents model healthy disagreement and resolution. As a result, I grew up believing that a normal life meant a happy life. As I grew, I noticed even more that strong emotions—especially negative emotions—weren't welcome."

I cannot grieve for Cantorna enough over the pain she experienced when those around her refused to teach her the full spectrum of emotions that we humans experience. We Christians often interpret Scripture as a prescription to avoid pain and negative emotions. Uncomfortable with our own pain, we ignore the fact that verse after verse of God's Word is devoted to the sacred practice of lament and of conflict between individuals, God and the world as a whole. Amber's story serves as a call to us Christians to reject the need for perfection and instead embrace authenticity in Christ.

2. We Need To Examine God's Love More Closely

Cantorna quotes her mother saying, "Friends come and go, but family is forever." That statement crashes painfully in the reader's mind, as what's about to come is likely not positive. It highlights the profound impact that both well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning Christians have had on the lives of LGBTQ people in the name of Jesus. Throughout her story, it is evident that Amber was torn between the communities that she existed in. She fought relentlessly to respect her family while understanding that she needed to live out of who she believed herself to be. It's as if we're hearing, "I'll always love you...BUT only if you make the decisions I want you to make."

This was a sobering example of our inability to love with the completeness that God loves us. We strive to love fully, yet we continually fall short. In the case of Amber, her family's, "...comfort took priority over my inclusion and their fears won out over my need for love." Amber's story compels us to re-examine and strive after God's unconditional love.

3. A Healthy Community Is Imperative To Our Growth

Amber summed up the struggle of many LGTBQ Christians when she writes,

"But I kept searching, knowing that if I was going to find a gay-affirming home church, it had to have a strong biblical basis. I didn't want a group of people who condoned homosexuality merely for the sake of comfort and acceptance, nor did I want to find a way to simply justify my way of life. I wanted the truth. I wanted something that was Biblically sound, but also allowed people to come as they are–if that even existed."

She reveals her heart which had an earnest conviction to stay true to what she believed in Christ. When Amber describes her church, she describes a community truly sought after an authentic faith that moves way deeper than sexuality. I personally resonate with her pursuit, as I sought out a new faith community for me and my husband. It appears that Cantorna didn't take the search for a healthy, mature community lightly and I think we can all learn from her example.

4. God Doesn't Yield to Our Expectations

In Amber's journey through her upbringing, it was evident how slowly the pieces of her world were being formed around her. In her approach, readers can see how the smallest things would eventually become points of painful irony, as she began coming to terms with her sexuality and faith. Somewhat amusingly, we see this as she discusses a list that her she made describing the ideal type of Godly man that would eventually take her hand in marriage.

This list, seemingly innocent at the time, is juxtaposed against the future when she read the list to her new bride on their wedding night. The reader can grieve and celebrate this idealistic list, as they begin to see that the future isn't going to turn out they way Amber had necessarily planned. This is a painful feeling, maybe even a process that many LGBTQ people and loved ones are all too familiar with.