Love Your Voice: Jen Petersen


Name: Jen Petersen

Your Family: Married almost 11 years to Jeff, 2 rambunctious boys – ages 7 and 5 years old.

Your Location in the World: Grand Rapids, MI

Three favorites: Dark Chocolate, Baths, Tragic novels (all three of them together make about the best night possible).

What is your calling?

I believe that Call is something that shifts and changes over time, and yet always has some consistent thread to it. My calling has something to do with helping those without a voice to be heard. Right now, that means helping my children learn to express who they are in ways that others can hear them, and helping their schools to hear who they are, even when their voices sound different than those of the other children. And it also means helping people at Servant’s Community Church (and the neighborhood around her), hear the voice of God calling them beloved. It means helping people listen to their own stories and experiences, searching for where God has been present.

I have all kinds of dreams of what this might look like in the future. Maybe someday I’ll pursue a degree in pastoral counseling and spiritual direction. A trip to Israel and Palestine a couple of years ago got me dreaming about listening to stories of the people who live there and helping them to hear one another. I’ve recently become enthralled with restorative justice initiatives and restorative circles and wonder what part that might play in my future.

Share a way God has worked through you, part of your redemption story:

The beginning of this call has always been learning to listen myself. I’m not always able to hear God call me the beloved. I worry that I’m not good enough for the work that I do – that one day everyone’s going to wake up and realize that I really have no idea what I’m doing. So I push myself too hard and worry about the things that I didn’t get done, or didn’t do well enough. And I feel it in my body. In college, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. In the years since then, I’ve learned that my body will tell me what my heart won’t pay attention to on it’s own. My aches and tense muscles are a sign that there’s too much of me and not enough listening to God’s voice, calling me into being.

How do you place yourself in the proximity of renewal?

Even though I need frequent breaks from it, I love the Westside of Grand Rapids, where my family lives and my husband and I serve as co-pastors at Servant’s Community Church. So many people look in from the outside and see poverty and addiction and cycles that can’t be changed. But I love living close enough to see neighbors helping neighbors push their cars out of the snow banks or gathering on each other’s porches or taking in a friend who’s been evicted when the medical bills got to large. I care about our parks being clean, because they’re the parks my children play in, too. I fight for more equity in our schools because it’s my children’s daily experience at stake, too. Investing in the city isn’t something radical when you live here – it’s just wanting your kids to have a nice place to grow up, just like everyone else wants for their kids.

You can check out our church at Servant’s Community Church.

Or check out The Other Way Ministries, one of the many neighborhood organizations we partner with. You can also find a list of neighborhood partners there under “Partnership Organizations.

i love your voice series


where sad and happy coexist.

LakeMIThe miles of built up ice began to separate last weekend. Thousands of pieces shifted and began to float down the channel from Lake Michigan to the inland Lake Macatawa. They crackled under the sunlight, and the kids threw rocks and sticks onto their surface as they floated by.

Under the sun, I started to feel the ice break up around me too.


I read the book The Fault in our Stars over spring break. The story was sweet, and funny, and sad, and brilliant. I loved it very much. While I read, I realized you can feel infinite happy and sad in coinciding moments, and just maybe this is normal.

and just maybe this is beautiful.


Sometimes, I don’t feel good enough. Really, I never feel good enough at anything I do. I never have, it’s my biggest struggle. It leaves me feeling sad in moments that should be happy.


My heart has felt uncharacteristically icy for the last many months in this struggle. Still, I want to rise up into a new day where sad and happy coexist. Ice will build up and shift apart, and eventually it will drift away further and further out to sea. This will keep happening over and over again.

That is real. It is the moving of our lives through imperfect terrain, through changing seasons.


Now I know, I am grateful for the happy and the sad,

in its beauty,

and in the way it moves us to love like Jesus did.


Have you read the Fault in our Stars? What did you think? 

Where does happy and sad coexist for you?


to be in proximity

old typewriterSpring break from school is approaching. I will be taking a little break. I will not be on a white sand beach. My backyard still has snow, and there is a lot of laundry in my basement.

I think I need to spend some time capturing my exhales. I will return April 14.

I so very much want to continue to be here to capture yours. I want to be in proximity.

Drop me a note if you would like to be a part of the Love Your Voice Series. I would very much love to have you.


Capturing Exhales

capturing exhalesOn my college campus lived an arboretum. I always choose a blue bench in the very back of the west side. The bench waited for me, never was it occupied.

I sat for hours between classes: doing homework, reading, and writing out my prayers, exhaling and giving God space. God felt close as I struggled with where I was heading, and as I fought feelings of inadequacy.

In the Michigan winter I choose a study corral in the back corner of the third floor of the library. {Looking back, that was kind of creepy of me, because it was so empty and quiet and alone there.}

Whatever the season I left space and there God captured my exhales.


This weekend we took a small walk outside. Finally, the snow is receding and there is a hint of warm in the air, the peeking of sunshine. I stood watching my kids run and remembered to breath. It felt broken that breath, but it came.

When you are twenty-two you wrestle with who you are and where you are going. You think the answer is around the corner and that when it comes you will go on breathing easily. Really, that question presents itself a thousand times in a lifetime.

I am struggling with it again as a thirty-five year old. Where I am going, the pathway is not clear. Sometimes, a scary gray muddies up my attempts to keep going. I keep plowing into my own fears.


I remember the arboretum.

I remember the space I used to leave.

I remember the way God captured my exhales.


I want to go backwards and tell that girl that she was not inadequate. That God knew what he was doing. That every shaky exhale was gathered in his hands.

I can’t go back.

Maybe, I can tell this girl that she is not as inadequate as she feels. That God knows what he is doing even though it seems so gray. That he has not misplaced one of my breaths.

Or yours.


That makes a difference, because if there is light, if there is purpose, if there is that assurance…

we too, can capture the exhales of those in our proximity.

We ease their ability to breath and hold close all they release.


Whose exhales can you capture this week? Where do you go to give God space? What would you tell your twenty-two year old self? 








March for Nutrition

1The 1,000 days from the start of a woman’s pregnancy until her child’s 2nd birthday is a critical window of opportunity to save the lives of children globally.

1,000 Days partners with over 80 organizations to help educate about the importance of those first days.

Here you can find the advocacy toolkit with great printables.

1,000 Days 2The best way you can help?

Support 1,000 days partners that all focus on meeting the needs of childhood nutrition.

Encourage good nutrition in your own homes and schools.

Support national programs like WIC that focus on the health of women and children.

You can follow their work on Twitter and Facebook.

1000 Days 1Yeah! Another organization to focuses on the needs of the most vulnerable, that is good for our proximity hearts!





inscribed5We were given four books from the Inscribed Collection! Inscribed is a collection of studies that lead women to not just survive but thrive by encouraging themselves in the person of Jesus Christ. Do you love pinables? Check Inscribed out on Pinterest!


Amazed and Confused: When God’s Actions Collide with Our Expectations 

By: Heather Zempel

The book of Habakkuk and our questions about faith when life does not make sense.


Dive Deeper: Finding Deep Faith Beyond Shallow Religion

By: Jenifer Jernigan

A study of Ephesians, the difference between knowing and truly understanding.


Leaving Ordinary: Encounter God through Extraordinary Prayer

By: Donna Gaines

To know and be known by God. Discover how the tabernacle can be a guide for prayer today.


Living So That: Making Faith-Filled Choices in The Midst of Messy Life

By: Wendi Blight

This study focused on verses in Scripture that touch on ‘so that’ statements, like Jesus came so that… pray so that… trials come so that… give so that…


Great studies that ask questions that lead to hope.

Leave a comment here or like over at About Proximity’s Facebook page to be entered to win all four! 

What has been the most meaningful devotional you have read? 

I love Henri Nouwen! And Jesus Calling!

he has already wrote it.

immigration prayer fence

History has a way of repeating itself… I made this for an immigration reform project I am working on. Then I was struck with how much it is my heart right now.

I slip back into gray days and pull myself out, repeat… and repeat all my days.

I forget to pray. I forget to sing. I forget to be gentle with myself.

I forget that I am a messy one.

help 2

I forget that he sees the ending… and its bigger and greater than we can know.


I forget that I can love until it bends me.

And that I am loved the same, even if I am messy and broken.

I can love in close proximity.


What do you forget as years pass? How do you call it back to your heart?