Ten years ago if someone asked me to predict my future, I would have said that I expected to married with kids, and involved in some sort of Christian ministry. Ironically, that isn’t far from the truth, except that the specific confines of that prediction had a drastically different outcome than I (or any of my family) ever saw coming.
Today I am married, but to a woman.
I consider my two dogs my kids. And I am currently in ministry working for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in faith communities.
As a young adult, that’s not how I was taught to define marriage. Marriage according to my Christian upbringing was only between one man and one woman. Anything outside of that was considered a sin and against God’s design for the family unit.
I didn’t plan on breaking all the rules. In my youth, I was the good girl, the perfectionist, and the one that always did as she was told. I was raised in a conservative Christian family, I was home-schooled K-12, and my father was (and still is) an executive at Focus on the Family.
In many ways, that gave me an iconic and coveted upbringing.
I acted in Adventures in Odyssey as a kid, I traveled on a tour bus and performed musically when I was in junior high, and my parents were active and involved in our lives in every way.
But when I began wrestling with my sexual orientation in my early twenties, everything changed. Upon finding out that I’d fallen in love with my female roommate, my parents told me, “Amber, don’t ever tell anyone about this, because if you do, it will ruin your reputation forever.” And so like the good, people-pleasing daughter I’d always been, I buried this secret deep inside and never spoke about it to anyone.
Over time, it ate away at my soul and divided my heart further and further from my true self. Being the role model of a perfect Focus family, gay was certainly the one thing you were never supposed to be. So instead of outwardly processing my feelings in a healthy manner, I went even deeper into the closet. I internalized my own homophobia and until it manifested in the form of self-loathing, self-hatred, and self-injury.
Eventually, reconciling my sexuality with my faith became a matter of life or death.
Coming to terms with the fact that I was gay, reconciling my sexual orientation with my Christian beliefs, and coming out to my family were the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It ended up costing me everything–most painful of all, my family. I never thought that my dad’s position at Focus would eventually divide me from my family, rather than keep us focused on it–but that’s what happened.
Upon coming out to my family in 2012, my parents compared me to murderers, pedophiles, and bestiality. I was told that I was selfish for doing this to the family and for putting my dad’s job in jeopardy. My parents then revoked my keys to their house and said they no longer trusted me to have open access to their home.
Eventually, they cut ties with me completely. I haven’t spoken to my family now in years. They’ve never met my wife, and I had no family present at my wedding. Instead, my parents, brother, grandparents, and extended family all cut me out of their lives.
They believed that keeping me in the fold would risk not only my own soul being sent to hell, but theirs as well.
The last five and a half years have been a bit like a teeter-totter as I’ve experienced both incredible pain and incredible joy. I had to leave everything I’d ever known and begin again, yet I’d never felt more at peace or more comfortable in my own skin. I continued to grieve the incredible loss of losing my family, yet simultaneously fell in love with and married my amazing wife. Life has been a series of ups and downs; celebrating big milestones, while simultaneously grieving huge losses.
It’s not a journey I would have chosen for myself, and it wasn’t the future I expected, yet in the process of refocusing, I’ve been led into a place of joy, peace, and freedom that I wouldn’t exchange or trade for anything. My life now is incredibly full of light and life. The ability to love and embrace myself and others for all the beautiful parts that bind us together has been so liberating. Authentic living has led me to the reward of having a stronger faith, and an even more focused family.
But coming out isn’t easy and my story is far from rare. Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before we reach full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. So if you are thinking about coming out, I want to leave you with a few things to consider on your journey:
1. Don’t be in a hurry.
There’s no timeline that says you have to come out by next week, or next month, or even next year. Take your time. Make sure you’re ready. Don’t feel pressured by others (or yourself) to come out too early.
2. Build a supportive community around you prior to coming out.
Find a community that embraces LGBTQ people and make friends that will celebrate you for all that you are. Find a trusted adult or mentor to confide in. If you’re not sure if someone is safe or affirming, listen to their conversation and the way they talk about LGBTQ issues in the news or people they know in the LGBTQ community. Maybe even drop some conversation starters around LGBTQ topics and see how they respond. You’ll know by the way they react whether they will be a safe space for you or not.
3. Tap into the resources around you.
There are so many great resources available now for LGBTQ people that come from faith communities. Whether you grew up evangelical Christian like me, or part of another faith community or religion, seek out the resources, support groups, and reading materials that will help you grow into being your full self. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the Resources tab on my website.
Above all, love yourself and know that the God who formed you in your mother’s womb celebrates you and considers all of you to be fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image.
You can read more of Amber’s story in her new memoir, Refocusing My Family: Coming Out, Being Cast Out, and Discovering the True Love of God.