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Fostered: Tori Hope Peterson and Jacob Petersen

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
May 8, 2023 5:15 am

Fostered: Tori Hope Peterson and Jacob Petersen

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

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May 8, 2023 5:15 am

Growing up with a mentally ill mother and living in twelve different foster homes, nothing was in Tori Hope Petersen's favor. How did she become a Track and Field All-American—and later, Mrs. Universe?

Show Notes and Resources

Visit Tori's website at and check out her instagram

You can purchase Tori's book at Fostered: One Woman's Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family through Foster Care

Tori's organization: Beloved Initiative

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So, I lived with my mom for eight years, but as I got older and as time went on, my mom's mental illness, it just got worse. And there was abuse happening in the home. I reported it, and I went to go live in a residential group home.

And then from there, I moved throughout many more homes. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are David and Wilson.

You can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So here's a question.

Best moment of the last year? Oh, my. You had no idea where I was going to go with that. Oh, I already know. I know what you're going to say. It's when – actually, we've had this happen a couple of times now.

It's when we had one of our grandsons who had been fostered by one of our sons and daughter-in-laws when he was adopted into our family. Is that what you were going to say? Yeah.

I was just wondering, you know where we are going today. Would you have said that anyway? Yes, because it absolutely is one of the greatest highlights for us.

I mean, yeah. When Austin, our son, and Kendall, his wife, adopted a writer, this – I don't know when it was – a couple, six or seven months ago. And before that, his older brother.

That one was on COVID, so he couldn't be in the courtroom. But this one, just weeping. Because you're like, we know what these boys' lives would have been and what they are now. And so you weep at that, but you also weep, that's our story.

Our lives being adopted by Christ is like the same thing. So today, we get to talk about fostering. We have a – what do you call them? The cutest couple you've ever seen? They're so cute. We have the cutest couple. Yes.

Yeah. We've got Tori Hope Peterson in here with her husband, Jacob. And you guys are just over there smiling. You are really a cute couple. We're just so happy to be here. We're glad to have you. Yeah. And welcome to Orlando. Welcome to Family Life Today. You know, one of the joys is you know Austin.

He's your literary agent. Do you know the kids? I don't know the kids, but I actually – I remember Austin sent me, you know, the Zoom link for when he was being adopted.

And I halved on for a little bit. And so watched the – that day happen and have kind of been following along the adoption journey as they've been on it, which has been cool. You wrote a book called Fostered, and the subtitle is One Woman's Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family Through Foster Care. And then Jacob, you entered into this story in college when you guys met. So it's going to be a great time of hearing how God did this miraculous thing of your lives and then bringing you together to create a new family.

Yeah. And you know, Jacob, if Tori says anything that's not accurate, you just correct her, right? You make sure we get the real story.

She'll kick me underneath the table. And you guys now live in Defiance, Ohio. We found out over lunch that we grew up not very far from Defiance, Ohio.

We grew up in Findlay, Ohio. And you guys are living there now with your two kids. Yes.

Yes. With our two biological kids. We have a four-year-old and a two-year-old. And then my sister lives with us as well. She's a junior in high school.

Okay. Let's hear the story. So I first went into the foster care system when I was three or four years old.

And I think when you're that age, you don't really have a concept of time. I don't really know how long I was in there, but my mom worked her case plan and the foster care system did one of its jobs and it reunified us. And so I went to go live with my mom again. And tell us about, like your name is pretty unique. Yes. And share about your mom naming you.

Yeah. My mom, before I was born, she was diagnosed with AIDS. And she prayed. She said, God, if I don't have victory, if my life isn't victorious, that's okay. But please make this baby's life victorious. And then someone sent her a card with the scripture Jeremiah 29 11, which is a scripture where God says, you know, I have hopes and plans and a future for you.

And so that's where my middle name came from, Hope. Oh, from that passage. Yes. Wow.

Yeah. And then I was born and the doctors were very surprised that she had passed or that she wasn't more ill and they tested her again and it was a false positive. But that's still the name that she gave me. And I really do, despite going into the foster care system and despite my mom's shortcomings, I know that she did her absolute best to be the greatest mom that she could be to me. So she had you with her until you were three? Yeah, until I was about three or four. And then I was actually reunified with her. And then I lived with her again until I was 12. And so I lived with my mom for, you know, eight years. But as I got older and as time went on, my mom's mental illness, it just got worse. My mom was diagnosed with bipolar and schizophrenia and the abuse in our home also got worse. And I had a sister at this point.

She is nine and a half years younger than I am. And so we went into the foster care system together. The first time I was like, I don't want to go into foster care.

I want to be with my mom as a little girl. But the second time I was like, okay, this is our opportunity to have a normal family to kind of escape the abuse and everything that we're going through. But then within a month of being in that first home, me and my sister were separated and there was abuse happening in the home.

I reported it and I was deemed a liar. And I went to go live in a residential group home. And then from there, I moved throughout many more homes.

How many homes have you been in? I moved throughout 12 homes throughout my entire time in the foster care system. And then I emancipated the day I turned 18. So there's this idea when kids are in the foster care system, they get kicked out the day they turn 18.

That's like a myth that that used to happen, but it's been a long time. Now there's extended foster care. And kids actually have, well, adults have the choice whether they decide to emancipate or not. And a lot of them choose to emancipate because they just feel so burned by the foster care system.

And that was the case with me. I just felt like just hurt, not by like necessarily my foster parents. I actually loved the foster mom. I was living with a single foster mom at the time and I adored her. She was such a good mom and reflected the love of Jesus to me. One of the reasons I finally came to the faith, but I was so angry at the system itself.

And so I decided to emancipate. We hear stories and we've seen like our son and his wife, they fostered. And so they're amazing parents. They have an amazing family. I've also heard... Of course we think that about our son. I mean, they're amazing.

They really are really great. But I've also heard stories where it's not so great. And so for you, was each family, as you're going in and out of these homes, were some great and some not so great too? Right.

Yeah. That is how it was. There were some families that... You can always tell the families, you know, there's that stereotype like foster parents are in it for the money.

They're not all in it for the money, but you can absolutely tell the ones that are. They're the ones that have like 12 beds in one room and that, you know, take in a lot of kids but aren't very attentive to them. And I had foster homes like that, but in my 11th foster home, there were a set of foster parents and they were like young and cool. And so I was very excited to live with them. They proclaimed the name of Jesus, had adopted three kids before I entered their home. And they started taking me to church every Sunday. And I started to have a lot of questions about God in that home and started to kind of, I think, inch a little bit closer to wanting to understand what Jesus was about and understanding that he loved me.

But then they abused their kids. And so it was really confusing to me. No, don't tell.

Really? I'm so sorry. I know. I'm so sorry I said that.

But it's, yes. Was this why you were still there? Yeah, it was while I was still there and that's eventually why I was removed. So I was removed and then I went to my 12th foster home. And the foster mom, she proclaimed the name of Jesus, took me to church every Sunday, but she made a lot of sacrifices for me.

And she loved me so well. And I had a lot of questions about God. Like I was, I would say that I had a really big wall up after that because I just could not understand why these people who proclaimed his name. What I was learning about him, you know, in church and through these devotions was that he was kind and loving and that he cared for me, which was everything that I wanted, you know, moving from home to home. I wanted to be accepted and that's what I was understanding God, who he was. But then I didn't understand why would his people abuse these kids. And so it really angered me. I put a huge wall up and my foster mom was just so faithful and she kept taking me to church every Sunday and she was patient with me and I would ask her questions, I think sometimes out of spite.

And she just continued to say, like, let's just learn together. And through that community, through her taking me to church and almost every person in leadership at my church was involved in the foster care system in some way. Our founding pastor had started a nonprofit to serve foster families. An associate pastor and his entire family were foster parents. And there were a lot of people who were kind of in leadership that were foster parents. And so I could look to my church and be like, if these people care about these kids, then maybe they care about me too.

And if that's true, then maybe Jesus really does care about me too. And did you wonder that, like, I'm imagining, like, you've gone through a lot with your mom emotionally as a little girl figuring this out. Why am I not with my mom? What's wrong with mom? And then, I mean, I think this can happen to anyone with any kind of abuse. It goes inward.

This is what I did. Is there something wrong with me? Did you face that? Well, the challenging part of that is that my mom always blamed me. Like she said, it was always my fault. And so I actually did think for a long time that it was me. And it wasn't until my adult life that I went back to caseworkers and lawyers and people who lived in my group home. And I was like, was this all my fault?

Like, am I missing something? And they were just like, no, like, this is all lies. Like this, you going into the foster care wasn't your fault. You and your sister wouldn't have went in together. Obviously, if it was just your fault, you would have went in by yourself.

And it really wasn't until my adult life that I could rid that lie. That's a humble thing to do. Because if you're more prideful, you're like, it wasn't my fault. And I know it's not my fault. But if you're humble, you're going to go back and say, am I missing something?

Is that what was going on? I think when God started to put me in places of ministry, I just know that humility is important. There's that proverb that says, first comes the pride, then comes the fall. And I think if there's any reason I would fall, it would be because my pride, C.S.

Lewis says that all sin stems from pride. And so I guess it's just something that I really care about being aware of my sin and my shortcomings, even if they were that long ago, because patterns, what we know about trauma and what we know about really just bad patterns in our life is that they're patterns. They'll keep continuing if we don't look at them and change them. And so I wanted to go back and ask because I knew if it was affecting me then, that it would affect the people that I serve today. And I didn't want it to.

And I'm just going to say, just from being a person that's been there, you just start believing this lie and Satan just whispers it over and over. This is you. This is you. It's your fault.

You did something to cause this. And so I think there's a beauty in going back to find the truth. And we can go back through God's Word and our past and find it because it silences the enemy's lies. I remember like when we were in seminary, I remember discovering like, okay, I was abused. I had the courage to finally say I was abused, where before I'm like, well, maybe I did something or maybe there's something healing about that. And I'm guessing that was healing for you.

Yeah. And I had people speak over me the truth when I was growing up. Like when my foster mom was taking me to that church, the community started to speak a lot of encouragement in life over my life, which was very different from, you know, there was a part of the community that also said, she's going to be like her mom.

She's going to be another statistic. And I really did fear those things because of what my mom said. And when the church was encouraging me, I don't think I could wrap my head around what they were saying. It was like a lot of like Christian-ese, you know, like you're anointed, you're appointed, you're called and you're like, when you're 17, you're like, what does that mean?

But then I had a track coach who came along and he gave me this tangible goal and he said, I think you can go onto the state track meet and I think you can win it. He was such a terse man. Like he didn't say things that he didn't mean. And I think like that tangible, you can see it truth in which someone else that was also tangible believed in me also was like a catalyst that raised those lies. That man not only said those things, he had a bigger impact on your life.

What happened? Yes, he was right. And what he told me, he was like, I think you can go onto the state track meet and win it. I was like, okay, I'm just going to like do what this crazy guy says. I'm just going to train with him.

And if like it doesn't happen, then it's his fault because it was his crazy idea anyway. And when we got like, even if it didn't happen, we became very close and he was like a father figure in my life, which I didn't really have at the time because I was living with a single foster mom. And then after I emancipated, I went to go live with a woman named Tanya and she kind of was like my mother figure.

And so I didn't really have like a prominent father figure in my life. He became that and then I went on to go become a four-time state champion in track and field. And he ended up bringing me into his family and welcoming me into his home. And that is who I call my dad today. That's who my kids call grandpa. And that's who I went home to, you know, in college during the holidays. And yeah, he's just always been my dad ever since. That's so sweet. Yeah, I'm sitting there thinking, well, I'm sitting here with two women that ran track in Ohio in high school, Buckeye Conference, state champion. You know, Jacob, you're sitting over here.

You know, I don't want to fast forward too much of your story, but as you think about Tori working through that stuff before you guys even met. And you guys met in college and you were married. How old were you guys when you got married? Twenty-two.

Twenty-two. Yeah. Are you like glad she did the work?

Have you seen the results? Well, I mean, I got- It's ongoing. Yeah.

I mean, it definitely is. It's ongoing. It's ongoing for both of us. You know, just because, you know, she comes from that background, I have to be very sensitive. You know, there's a lot of things that behaviors I had early on in my marriage, our marriage, that would, you know, send her into a spiral and I'd have no idea.

And it was completely my fault because I would shut the cupboard door too loudly. Really? Something like that? Bam. That triggered?

Oh, absolutely. I'd be like, why are you mad at me? Like, why are you upset? Like, why did you just slam the cupboard? And interestingly, that was a very similar pattern with when I started living with my track coach.

I would just think that he was upset with me or that something bad was going to happen. The reality is we were just unaware. Like, that's just what we did.

We shut it a little louder than most people. Jacob grew up with three other boys. Yeah, right, right.

Three other boys. And you grew up with a mom and dad in ministry. Your dad was a pastor. Yes. And so your upbringings were very different. Absolutely.

Yeah. I would say, you know, despite that upbringing, when I first got to start knowing Tori, you know, she told me about her foster background. And I think, to this day, I still think that you're probably the first foster kid I've ever met. And I don't know what that means about my childhood. But as far as I just foster kids were not prevalent in my childhood.

I didn't even know they existed. And so when you told me about this story and your 12 homes, my heart broke. Right? I think that's, you always say that I became very soft. Yeah. Early when you're dating? Yeah. I would say when I, when me and Jacob first met, I felt like he just wanted to show me that he was confident. Like, and- Yes. I was trying to impress her.

What did that look like? Um, prideful. And I don't, like, come out and tell my story unless people ask.

I'm not going to be like, Oh yeah. And I grew up in 12 homes and I was a foster kid. And so we were just talking about, you know, when we first met, we just talked about school and the classes we were taking. And I was an athlete and we were talking about the classes he was taking and what he wanted to do after college. And it wasn't until, you know, maybe the third or fourth time that we got together that my upbringing got brought up and I could tell there was a softening, like an instant softening. I know, like looking back that you just wanted to show me, like you were confident, you wanted to impress me, but whatever that was, it just went away.

Do you feel like it went away? Oh yeah, absolutely. Like, yeah, like I said, I was just trying to be impressive, confident, kind of- Just what a girl wants. Exactly.

Let it be cool. I had this image of like what I was supposed to be for this person. And then, I don't know, when you told me, like I said, when you told me the story, I just became very disarmed and whatever hard shell I had just like melted.

And I was like, oh my goodness. I am a very emotional person. I try to keep people at arm's distance so they don't see that, but I probably cry more than Tori does. I love a good drama.

Which is probably exactly what you need in Tori. Like I'm sure there's a hesitancy to allow other people into your heart because you've probably had to protect your heart a little bit over the years. So what did that look like? Did you just start falling in love with this guy? That's a funny thing.

Yeah, I think I did. I think my favorite thing about Jacob still and then is that he has really good questions. You know how like you guys are asking really good questions? Like that's just what Jacob does with people all the time. And it's because he's genuinely interested in who they are. And I just loved that. Like he makes people feel important. He made me feel important, but he also made like we would be in a group of friends and he made them feel important. And we were probably hanging out for like a week or two at this point. And he was like, I want to show you my favorite sermon that I've ever heard. And it was... Oh, you didn't have to play one of my sermons again. I hear that all the time. Again, you know.

It was, it was our close second actually. It was Bob Goff. Oh Bob, you know. Bob, he's just okay. I never heard of Bob Goff before at this point. Like I didn't grow up in the church.

I didn't grow up listening to Christian celebrities or Christians at all. Well, I mean, even at this time, the message I sent you was from 2012. So this is before before Bob had really... Before Bob was Bob. Before Bob, right? Before Bob was Bob, yeah. And... And you wanted her to hear that so that she would know you?

Yeah, why did you want me to hear that? That's very interesting. Well, like the sum of it, he said, love God, love people, do stuff. And I didn't know it, but I was like, Oh, Jacob was like, that's like my, my motto for life. And I was like, I didn't know it, but that's my motto for life too. And I think that was when we just realized like, our values align.

We want to live a life that looks a certain way for the glory of God. And this is the person I want to do it with. Really? Have you guys reached out to Bob and said, Hey, you brought us together? He puts his phone number in his book. Bob is a very good friend of mine. He's been a mentor to me and I'm very blessed to have him. That's great.

Wow. Does Bob know that story of us? Yes, he does.

Oh, he does? Okay. I mean, was there a point, you know, when you're dating, how long did you guys date? How long was it before you married?

Well, okay. I mean, well, I mean, between meeting, we met end of September of 2017. This is your senior year of college? Yes. So yeah, we started dating and we were getting serious and then we got pregnant before marriage and so that sped up our timeline really fast. And that was a, that was a really hard season finishing up track academics, not actually knowing what we were going to do for school wise. Navigating this sin that was very, you know, open to everyone around us.

Yeah. So everybody knew. Did you come out?

Like what was that like? Something that I didn't talk about is that I was conceived out of abuse and my mom chose life for me and I, it's one of the reasons I just see her as like the bravest person ever. That was always my stance and that was Jacob's stance and we knew that we didn't want any other option.

We never even thought of another option. But for that reason, we knew that we just had to confess and tell the people around us and it was really hard. We went to a college coin, the most conservative college in the nation. And so there were a lot of, it was mostly my peers reactions. I would say your friends were very supportive overall but I would say my friends reactions. I was also in leadership and ministry and I think this kind of goes back to your question of like, why do I ask? Because I hurt a lot of people. Then I was in leader, I was leading ministries on campus and I hurt a lot of girls that I was leading and I just would never want to do that again. I was on the track team and I was a leader on the track team and I know that I hurt a lot of people on my team and we hurt Jacob's parents. We hurt Jacob's family and it was just like heart wrenching and we were hurt too.

We were hurt by people's reactions because we did too want people to celebrate the life and we wanted people to celebrate what we were doing next and not like accept our sin but just like celebrate what was happening. Like a life is a blessing. Like this is your little boy who's four now.

Who's four now. Yeah and he is like, if God gives you life, that's a blessing. Yeah and so it was a challenge but I think, you know, when you have the foundation that is Christ, you really can't like get through anything and so that's how we got through it but it was definitely hard.

There were a lot of lessons learned. I came to the Lord, like I think a lot of people, they come to God under this idea of you are a sinner saved by grace and like Jesus like nailed your sins to the cross and I knew that but like when I came to the Lord, I really came to him like he is my dad. Like he is my father and he's the dad that I've always been looking for and so like that sin, like the part that I was like very sinful, never really sunk in until this time and I had a really great job opportunity like dream job out of college, working in foster care advocacy and helping girls who were aging out of the foster care system and I lost that job because of it. They were a Christian organization and I was going to live among the girls and since I can't live among the girls with your husband and so it was totally reasonable and I just felt like it was like God kind of like, this is what's going to happen like if you don't obey me.

There are consequences. There are consequences if you are going to proclaim my name right and not actually live it out and so there was a lot of hard, like good, hard lessons learned early on in marriage. So you got married pretty quick? Yes, we dated for six months. November to May 20th was our wedding, so six months.

Yeah, we had like a month engagement. Yeah, what would you say to the parents of a child who finds themselves where you are? They either get pregnant, out of wedlock, you saw the good and bad of that. What would you say to a parent who says, okay, how do I help somebody?

How do I help my own kid? How do I receive them? That's a really good question and I don't know if I've actually really thought about that. Like, how would I want my parents to receive me or receive what we gave because when we told them, we told them over Zoom and I think they were expecting an engagement announcement and what we gave them was not an engagement announcement. Well, I mean, the engagement was kind of the point two of what we gave them and so I just remember them just being so sad and like disappointed and I was like, okay, you know what, disappointment is an okay feeling to have, but I think I really just wanted them to like reassure us that everything was going to be okay.

I think that's what I really needed. Yeah, I think like we totally understood people's like sorrow and grief, but we needed encouragement because we were pretty scared, but we just put on good faces because we also wanted everyone else to know it was okay, like going to be okay, but at the same time, we needed other people to tell us it was going to be okay. I think the thing is, I listen to you guys, Tori, it's sweet to see God's hand on your life from the way your mom named you and how she named you to watching your journey through foster care, through meeting this coach, through meeting Jacob and then you didn't necessarily do it perfectly, but when you read the Bible, it's this beautiful mess. You know, it's like he redeems and you have this beautiful son and another daughter now, so thanks for sharing all of it and not leaving any pieces out. Hi I'm Shelby Abbott and you've been listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Tori Hope Peterson and Jacob Peterson on Family Life Today. This has been such a powerful story about redemption and care and hope and running to Jesus in the midst of some very difficult circumstances.

You can find Tori Hope Peterson's book called Fostered, one woman's powerful story of finding faith and family through foster care. Just head over to and pick up a copy there. So this is an incredible month because of some super generous partners who have opened up a window for anyone who wants to link arms with us at Family Life and make a donation. So during the month of May, when you sign up to become a Family Life partner, your gift is going to be matched dollar for dollar, regardless of the size of your donation, right Dave? Yeah, and it goes actually for the whole year.

If you jump in and become a financial partner with us, which is a monthly financial giver to Family Life, you join our family, you help us take this message and God's word about marriage, family, legacies to the world, and your gift will be doubled for a whole year. And it's exciting because we have all new resources. You have access to many things that no one has ever had access before. I mean, it's like a backstage pass. You sort of get inside the curtain. You get to hear things before anybody else knows.

We actually have a June event coming up, a live stream that you get insider access to. I mean, there's a lot of cool things that you get. Get a free gift card to a Family Life Weekend to Remember Conference that you could keep or give away. I mean, that's big time. But the biggest thing is join our family.

Be a part of changing the world by sacrificially giving. There's a whole team of people that do this. They're our partners. They are critical to what this ministry does and what this ministry is going to do. And we're inviting you to jump in right now.

It's a great time to do that. Go to, and I'd say click that button and say, I want to join the family. I want to be a part of this ministry, and I want to be an insider. Again, you can go online to, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. Now tomorrow, we're going to hear from Tori Hope Peterson and Jacob Peterson again, talking about the importance of realizing the things that are in our past, the baggage that we bring into our current relationships and how our suffering is going to bring about one day the glory of God. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of David Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a donor-supported production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-09 05:47:45 / 2023-05-09 06:00:55 / 13

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