Amanda Vernon

Catholic Evangelist

The Deeper You Love

Together with David and our four kiddos (they’re now ages 6, 4, 2, and a newborn), I relocated to Phoenix from the San Francisco Bay Area last month. This mirrors the transition we made as a family two years prior. Except this time has been somehow much more seamless while being simultaneously more painful. 

Two years ago, we moved from our hometown in Michigan, across the country, with a newborn baby, to a place where we hardly knew anyone. Thankfully, David’s brother lived there. I also had a few ministry colleagues in the area, and a new job lined up. Adjacent to my new place of work, the cozy blue house that we moved into required a new level of accessibility to our surrounding community. 

I could describe settling into California as I describe Bay Area highways: noisy, crowded, interconnected, with breathtaking scenery.

This year, again we had a baby, and again we moved to a new state where we knew hardly anyone. Our work schedule is completely adaptable now, since we’ve stepped away from all other professional commitments to focus solely on my music career. There’s plenty of space in our Arizona home for our growing family, and our backyard is exceptionally quiet and secluded. And yet, the way I miss California is unparalleled.

I miss the rolling hills. I miss the romantic mist in the morning. I miss the smell of fresh flowers during every season, the cool Bay breeze, the warm sun. The rainbow of ethnicity, language, and culture. The spirit of openness and ingenuity. The Catholic missions that shaped the history of the region. How most cities are named after saints and angels. Of everything, I miss our friends the most. 

In California, for the first time in 7 years of marriage, David and I formed our group of friends together. See, back where we grew up in Michigan, most of our beloved friendships were forged in our youth. Even though many of those friends overlapped, they began when we were single. Our experience in the Bay Area was quite different. 

This particular group of friends grew out of our ministry at our church. David and I were part of the “birth” of this new family of friends, so to speak. It was strengthening for us as individuals, and edifying for our marriage. And I believe the love between us all was the presence of God. Others recognized it, too, without needing any explanation. 

For example, a young man who moved to our neighborhood from another country, came to pray and talk with our group of friends. During his first attendance at our young adult group, he turned to me with a huge smile and said, “I like this... feeling.” Our community was his first experience with Christianity. That night, he decided to join the Catholic Church. He’s planning to come into the Catholic Church on Easter. Perhaps he didn’t know the details of our beliefs yet, but he could sense the love that we share. 

One of our Amanda Vernon Patrons left a beautiful comment this week that speaks the truth of my recent experience. In response to my newest episode of In Real Life, Dick Safranski wrote, among other things, “The deeper you love, the more loss you can feel.”

If you’re reading this, Mr. Safranski, thank you for the truthful and touching words! 

It would require many more pages of text to explain the many ways our Bay Area friends blessed our lives during the past two years. That bond doesn’t go away with the distance between us. It definitely hurts to be apart, though. I’m grateful for a smooth start to our newest adventure, and I’m also thankful for the sweetness that’s felt in this sense of loss.

So Maybe I'll Be Misunderstood

Over the past several months, I’ve been on stage in front of thousands of people across the U.S., and connected with thousands more over the Internet.  But those fleeting moments reveal only part of the story, and images on social media can only say so much.  A picture may tell a thousand words, but who decides the interpretation of those words?  

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Swimming Upstream

Growing up, most of my touchstone religious experiences came during youth retreats or conferences. There was something special about stepping back from my typical routine to place my full energy into a heightened awareness of the divine.  Not to mention, I got to meet cute boys.  


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Moving Is Hard

My kids request a Charlie Brown book called “Happiness Is.”  I open the pages to familiar figures.  As Jamal and Chiara snuggle on either side of my expanding baby bump, I read aloud simple antidotes like, “Happiness is a warm puppy,” and “Happiness is three friends playing in a sandbox with no fighting.”


We turn the page to see Linus.  The sentence follows, “Happiness is sleeping in your own bed.” I get choked up, every time.

My home-sweet-home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

My home-sweet-home in Grand Rapids, Michigan. 

Genesis 12:1

The LORD had said to Abram, "Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you.”

A few months ago, my family and I finally finished our coast-to-coast music tour.  I remember standing in front of the sink in our friends’ home in Wisconsin, on what became a pivotal morning.  Brushing my teeth turned into prayer.


It went something like this.  “Okay, Lord.  I’m so excited to be back in the Midwest!  I loved our tour, but I’m exhausted and looking forward to normalcy.”


Then I addressed a lingering question.  “I’m thinking about my last tour stop, in California.  All Saints parish invited me to come back with my family to stay!  Really?  I don’t feel strongly about this either way.  If You want me to let the idea roll past, that would be great.  But if I should investigate, please make it clear.”


My “Amen” sounded a lot like toothpaste rushing down the drain.

Genesis 12:2

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.”

Sitting in daily Mass later that morning, I heard the Old Testament story of Abram (best known as Abraham) being called to set out for a new land where the Lord would bless him.  After some singing and a story about Jesus, Bishop Ricken stepped forth to preach to the congregation of mostly school children.


He said, “Moving is hard.  But God calls us to move.  And He’s calling you to move.  Isn’t He?”


What?  Maybe I missed something.  But no.  His Excellency went on to describe the difficulty of picking up and going to an unknown place, especially when we love where we live.  He compared it to Abraham’s journey, and then related it to Christ by saying there is a sort of death in leaving one place behind.  Yet, he assured us, by staying at the cross through this “death,” we will experience a new joy once we settle into our new land.  

Genesis 12:3

“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

Just like that, I went from savoring a sweet return to the Midwest after 10 months of travel, to investigating the possibilities of becoming an Artist-in-Residence at a Catholic Church in the Bay Area.  The steps between then and now have echoed with the same clarity of Bishop Ricken’s homily.


A few months later, boxes of belongings scatter our temporary housing.  Meanwhile, our cozy bungalow in Grand Rapids is polished, freshly painted, and completely empty for the renters who will soon occupy it.  


Over the next few months, I suppose I’ll keep reading this Charlie Brown book.   Our toddlers will welcome their new little sister in September.  And then, I'll tearfully tell our kids to embrace their grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and we'll transfer these boxes into a moving truck to head out west.

Genesis 12:4

So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him.

Between the parish of All Saints, the Diocese of Oakland, and my husband and me, we still have a few contractual details to work out.  But our new home awaits in California.  We plan to sign a one-year agreement to commence in November.  


Maybe sometime around Thanksgiving, I’ll rest my head on my own pillow, in my own bed, with my little family around me, and the simple assurance that we’re living on in faith.  I’ll sense the satisfaction that only comes from taking risks.  I’ll discover a new level of happiness that I couldn't have found by staying where life is comfortable.  


Maybe.  Until then, it’s bittersweet.  


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