Tori Hope Petersen has emerged victorious from the ashes of abuse, trauma, and the adversity she endured in the foster care system. Tori lived in twelve different homes before aging out of foster care at 18 without being adopted. She went on to be an All-American in track and field and is one of the 3% of foster youth to graduate from college. Today, she is a wife, mom, foster parent, foster care advocate, bestselling author, and non-profit founder and holds the title of Mrs. Universe 2021. She is passionate about foster care reform, adoption advocacy, vulnerable populations, and seeing the love of God change people’s lives. May our conversation with Tori remind you that God can do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine in your life, and through His power, you can overcome your greatest struggles and challenges.
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Finding Faith Through Foster Care — With Tori Hope Petersen
Before we dive into our absolutely inspiring conversation with my guest, Tori Hope Petersen, I want to personally invite you to our upcoming event called Unveil Your Worth happening on Saturday, September 24th, 2022, in beautiful San Luis Obispo on the Central Coast of California. This is going to be such a special afternoon and evening for teen girls, young women, college-age girls, post-college and important women in their lives, their moms, mentors, grandmas or youth leaders.
It’s going to be a beautiful gathering of girls and women. We are going to have live music, a photo booth, a picnic dinner on the lawn, a short itinerary board, and all kinds of fun things but the most important part is we are going to have worship. We are going to be worshiping under the stars together. We are going to have testimonies messages.
I will be doing a book signing along with our dear friend, Kate Merrick. I hope you can join us Saturday, September 24th, in San Luis Obispo, especially since I’m sharing this with all our California friends. If you are looking for a road trip, this is a perfect opportunity. To learn more about our events and to make sure you don’t miss out on any exciting news our ministry has to offer, please visit our website at WonderfullyMade.org.
You can find the registration link to sign up and save your spot for Unveil Your Worth at WonderfullyMade.org/events. Please invite all the girls and the women in your lives. I can’t wait to see you at the beautiful See Canyon Fruit Ranch at San Luis Obispo. Now let’s dive into my conversation with Tori-Hope Petersen.
We have the honor of speaking with another incredible woman. God has done extraordinary, beautiful, and seemingly impossible things in her life. Tori Hope Petersen has emerged victoriously from the ashes of abuse, trauma, and the diversity of the foster care system. Tori lived in twelve different homes before aging out of foster care at eighteen without being adopted.
Tori went on to be an All-American track and field star and is 1 of the 3% of foster youth to graduate from college. Now she is a wife, a mom, a foster care advocate, a bestselling author, and a nonprofit founder. I also need to casually mention that she holds the title of Miss Universe 2022. Tori, welcome to our community of girls and women here. How are you?
Thank you so much for having me. It is such an honor. Introductions are always so funny. It’s like when people sing happy birthday to you, you are like, “Do you sing along? Do you hide?” Thank you for all those nice things.
It is such an honor to have you here, Tori. I have been looking forward to our time together so much. I was telling you earlier that I came across your heart-wrenching, inspiring, and beautiful story on social media. I want to encourage everyone to follow you. What’s your handle, so they hop on that?
It’s @ToriHopePetersen.Trust in God's timing. It will come. If God has called you to it, He will see you through it. Click To Tweet
In that social media video, which I’m assuming has gone viral, you use signs to share your story, and it captivated me. When your publicist emailed me, I was like, “I already know about this girl, and we absolutely are having her on.” Thank you so much for being here. We want to congratulate you on the release of your memoir, Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family through Foster Care. Your book has not yet been released, Tori, and it is a best seller.
Thank you so much. It has been overwhelming. Much joy has come along that because I felt like one thing not so clear that God spoke over my life, which is to tell a story. I wanted to do that in a permanent way. Not in a way wherein Instagram can disappear. You eat it, and then you spit it out. I didn’t know how it was going to come about and if it was even going to be good. God blesses our obedience. It has been so joyful to watch that happen.
I want to share a sign quickly. For any of our readers, you have a dream, this desire of your heart, and maybe it seems like the doors are closing. I want to share that Tori received over 50 rejections from literary agents and 50 closed doors.
It’s probably more than that was accounted but I’m absolutely positive. It was more.
It’s the power of perseverance, and here you are. All those literary agents are like, “Why did I say no?”
It’s the power of God’s timing. The literary agent that is my literary agent now said no to me. I don’t want any other agent. After a bunch said no, I was like, “This is the agent I want anyway. This is never going to happen.” Through that time, God refined the message and my writing. Trust in God’s timing. It is going to come. Especially if God has called you to it clearly, he will see you through it.
Tori, I want to dive into your story. Will you tell us what it was like growing up in the foster care system? Will you please share the first memory that happened to you before you were born?
We don’t have memories before we are born and before three years old. My very “first memory” was the one that my mom told me about while I was growing up and that I was conceived out of abuse. This terrible thing had happened to my mom, and she was in a very difficult circumstance. Both of her parents had passed away before I was born, and she was living in a place where she did not grow up. She wasn’t a part of a strong community. My mom had so little but she gave me life. That story is an important one to tell because it points to the bravery of my mom to step into motherhood with a lot of unknowns, poverties, and fears.
Your story makes me think of this verse in Ephesians Chapter 3:20. I want to read it, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine according to his power that is at work within us, to him be the glory in the church and Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”
I also love the verse in Genesis 50:20 and it says, “Everything that was meant for evil, God can use for good for the saving of many lives.” Speaking to Joseph and scripture of how his brothers put him through the worst of the worst things and God chose to make it all for good. He redeemed every hardship he had ever been through. I feel like that’s what God has done. He’s taken these hardships in my life, done unamicable things with them, things that I couldn’t have even hoped and prayed for as a little girl. I couldn’t have even anticipated it.Do everything for the glory of God. Click To Tweet
It’s beautiful. I love the story behind you going from Miss Universe. That’s a great story. I would love for you to share it here briefly. I have so much else I want to talk to you about but you did not shy away from your story, your faith in Jesus, and your beliefs about life. That’s so powerful. Will you share a little bit about that experience for you and the platform that you ran on?
I was already speaking, writing, and working on foster care reform. I always think it’s important to say, like, “I did not become Mrs. Universe to do these things. I was already doing these things. I wanted to do Mrs. Universe because all the things I was doing were very draining on me. I was like, “God, I’m working for you. I’m doing this for you. I’m going to keep on going.” I felt this very clear voice from God saying, “You don’t have to work for me. You can work with me. Be with me.”
I was like, “What does that even mean?” I have always been like, “Everything for the glory of God.” That has been what I’m into running off of. I felt like God was like, “Enjoy me,” in the opportunity of pageantry came on the scene. I was like, “That sounds fun.” I love dressing up and looking beautiful. I love competition. I was like, “This is a way that I could enjoy God but still bring him glory by telling people what he’s done in my life and sharing my story.”
Tori, you are bold about your faith and contagiously share the love and hope of Jesus. Can you share your personal testimony of finding faith?
Yes. I was very skeptical. Let’s start with that. If there that there was any God, I was like a professing atheist who told all my classmates if they believed in God that, they were stupid. I’m such a jerk. It was so many things. I was reading Ayn Rand, who is an atheist. She made me think very deeply about philosophy and religion in a way that no one else did. Navigating that, I came to the conclusion that there was a God and I was like, “Okay, but who is God?” I was going to church with a foster mom and singing, “Good, Good Father.” I remember feeling so bitter, like, “God, if you are so great and good, why haven’t you given me a father?”
There’s all this anger mustered up. I was totally a bully at school. It was this mixture of the turmoil of like, “I want to be a healed person who helps heal people, not a hurt person who hurts people.” I know the only way that I can truly do that is if I accept the healing love of Jesus into my heart. All the love that I’ve ever been able to give is Jesus’ love in me.
I know at that moment, “This isn’t going to happen. Me not being a hurt person who hurts people, it’s not going to happen without Jesus.” At the same time, there was the song Good, Good Father. It was reflecting on my life. I was like, “You are the good, good father. You have protected, loved, and kept me throughout all my life.” God has filled all the gaps that an earthly father could never have. Ever since, I have been like, “God, this is your life, and help me live it out well.”
We have such a heart here. We are not just a show. We are a ministry for the young woman. We want them to know the value, identity, and purpose they were created for through our relationship with Jesus. Your story can impact. I know it’s already impacting countless girls but it can encourage many. Tori, will you speak to the teen girl or young woman who feels unloved? Maybe she feels confused and doesn’t belong? What do you want to say to her?
You might not belong. The world might not accept you. I have never fit. I am Black and White. I’ve never fit into a political party. I go to a nondenominational church. People are always like, “What denomination are you?” I’m like, “I don’t fit. I will never fit.” Even if you don’t belong, and I think about not belonging in the home after home, being kicked to the curb, literally, no matter how many times you don’t belong on Earth, God has created a room for you in a kingdom. That’s eternal and forever. This Earth is like whatever. People don’t want me here. God wants me. He has created a space specifically for me.
Not in a house, ordinary everyday place in a kingdom where people can be like, “I don’t want you. You don’t fit into this role,” but God says you are a daughter of His. You are the closest. You think of a relationship with a father and a daughter. It is so close, kindred, and has much love in it. That friend who doesn’t want you, that parent who might reject you, that sibling that you don’t get along with matters because relationships matter and we should work through those. At the end of the day, God has said, “You are a daughter.”All the love that I've ever been able to give is Jesus’ love in me. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much for speaking such truth into the lives of young women. You wrote about this in your memoir and shared this a little bit. You were conceived out of abuse, and doctors had advised your mom to consider abortion, believing that you would be HIV positive. What led your mom to choose life? How has your story influenced your pro-life beliefs?
My mom saw me on an ultrasound. She always says my hands were underneath my cheeks, and she could hear my heartbeat. As soon as she heard my heartbeat, she was like, “I love her. That is my baby, and I am her mother. That is my daughter.” She never even second-guessed that choice giving me life. How has it influenced my beliefs? It reminds me that we do not know the future. Only God knows the future. What God says, what the scripture says, is that there is a purpose and plan for our lives that God has called his children. They are fearfully and wonderfully made. They are knitted in their mother’s womb by him. Only he knows what is possible, and we have to hold faith and trust him.
You wrote about, if I remember correctly, three specific people in your life. You had been in and out of foster homes. How many foster homes were you in?
I live throughout twelve different foster homes. If I count it, I always wonder, “Did I count right?” It was a lot.
Twelve different foster homes, you experience neglect, abuse, trauma, and rejection. On your journey, there were some incredible people who came alongside you, believed in you, and saw the woman that you were created to be. I remember you writing about your friend and mentor, Tanya, one of your foster moms, Gigi, and your track coach. Will you share specifically about your relationship with your track coach and the relationship that you have with him now?
My track coach started coaching me during my sophomore year of high school. I ended up moving schools. People were like, “Watch your hands with that girl. She’s trouble. She’s going to get you in trouble.” He was like, “I don’t see a troublemaker in this girl. If she is, we will come across that when it comes.” He continued to pour into me. The summer between my junior and senior year, he said, “Tori, I think you can go on to win the state track meet.” We were seriously the only two people on the track. I was looking around and like, “Is there someone else here? Is he talking to me?” People were like, “She’s going to be a narcissistic or stereotype. She’s going to end up like her mom. If she’s not careful, this is what’s going to happen, X, Y, and Z.”
That’s what I had spoken over me and what I believed. That’s not what I wanted but I did think, “This is how the story is going to end.” He gave me something so visual and tangible. It wasn’t like, “You can be a good person or you can do something cool.” It was very tangible. If you can win the state track meet, you can get a scholarship to college. I was like, “I’m going to try it, and if it doesn’t work, I’m going to blame him.”
I worked hard. Through that process, we became very close. He was like my best friend. The foster care system was very isolating because the Normalcy Act hadn’t passed yet, which says, “Kids in foster care can do things that kids who don’t live in foster care can do.” I went to school, practiced, and came home. He was my only person outside of my foster parent.
A year later, I became a five-time state champion in track and field. I was the 15th girl in Ohio to win 4 state championships in 1 track meet. I went on to go to an all-star meet. I got a full-ride scholarship to college. I am forever grateful to him, not for helping me win. That’s not what it was. I’m forever grateful to him because he chose to see me as God saw me. He chose to see me as who God created me to be, someone with potential, a purpose, and a plan. Even though people outside of the church and our circle said, “Stay away,” he gave me a chance. It speaks so highly to the power of love, speaking life, and seeing people as God sees them.
What role does he have in your life now?God can fill all the gaps that an earthly father could ever do. Click To Tweet
After my senior year, I was emancipated out of the foster care system and was instantly homeless, bouncing around from home to home. He said, “After the track season is over, I talked to my daughters, and we want to welcome you into our family.” Ever since, he has been my dad. I come home every year for Christmas to him. He walked me down the aisle. He’s the grandparent to my kids. He’s still one of my best friends. I love him so much.
It’s a beautiful example of the redemption that God has done in your life. Immeasurably more than you could have ever thought or imagined.
I accepted Christ into my life and was like, “God, you are my father. I’m given this. This is in your hands. Me having a father, you are my father. I’m letting it go. You are enough, God.” God has done that so many times in my life when I’ve let things go and said, “God, I am releasing control to you.” This was the first time I noticed it though, where I was like, “I’m sorry that I’ve said you are not enough. You are enough.” God gives me something that either resembles that or is that thing that I wanted to hold on so tightly to above and beyond what I could even have imagined.
I want to encourage you, Tori, that what your track coach, Gigi, Tanya, and your mentor, did for you, you were doing for so many people. Through your book, you are coming alongside, youth in foster care, coming alongside foster care advocates, and you are doing what these key people did in your life. You are doing that for others. I want to speak to our readers and encourage you to think about who in your life can you invest in. Who can you come alongside, encourage, and speak the truth of God into their lives and the hope of the plan and the future that God has for them? Who can you show their true identity? As followers of Jesus, this is our high and beautiful calling. It brings so much purpose and joy.
I know he’s had a wonderful community of girls and women who have that desire to make a lasting impact in so many lives like you are doing with countless people. For our readers who have a heart for youth in foster care, they want to learn more about how they can be part of a solution. I know you started a nonprofit and have a unique perspective from being in foster care of what helps youth in foster care and what maybe doesn’t help so much. Can you speak to that a little bit and highlight any organizations that you believe in that our community can rally behind?
How we see children is how they are going to see themselves. Seeing our children as gutsy stuff, that’s what I’m going to go back to that is going to change the foster care system. There are many stigmas, stereotypes, and soundbites on what foster care and what foster youth involves, who they are, and what they are. If you want to get involved, the Beloved Initiative is the organization that I found.
Our goal is to become professional lovers of people, whether that’s people in the foster care system, birth parents, homeless people, or anyone who has experienced hardship and that’s coming from hard places. Another amazing non-profit is called Unbelievably Resilient. I’m on that team. It’s a team of twelve foster youth. It’s run and founded by Foster Youth. We do a podcast and raise awareness on issues of foster care from the perspective solely of youth in foster care.
Thank you so much for pointing us to those resources. Once again, the nonprofit you started is the Beloved Initiative. The other organization that you are a part of is called once again?
It’s Unbelievably Resilient.
Tori, I want to close with the question that I love asking every single one of our guests here on our show. If you could go back and give your younger self some words of wisdom, how old would she be? What would you say to her?We do not know the future. Only God does. Click To Tweet
The question, “How old would she be?” That’s cool. I have a tattoo, and it is Alice in Wonderland fighting Jabberwocky. It was my favorite movie growing up as a little girl. My mom got versions like the Black girl version, the White girl version, and the cartoon version. I had them all. In the newest version, Alice is talking to the caterpillar and she’s like, “I don’t know how I’m going to defeat the Jabberwocky. I’m not going to be able to do this.”
The caterpillar says, “You don’t have to know what you are doing. You have to hold onto the sword.” I would tell my younger self like, “Hold on to God.” You don’t have to know what you are doing. People are like, “That’s not my calling. That is my calling. You are called to this.” You don’t have to know your calling. You don’t have to know what you are doing. Hold onto God, and he will guide you.
Tori, what is the best way that we can connect with and support you? I want to encourage our community to rally behind you and buy a copy of Fostered, leave a review, and share your story. What is the best way we can connect with you?
You can find me on Instagram and TikTok. My URL is Tori Hope Petersen. The best way you can support me is to buy the book. To me, I want to get this message out of Jesus’ love for youth in foster care, people who come from hard places, and everybody. That’s the best that you can support me. We can get that message out together.How we see children is how they're going to see themselves. Click To Tweet
Thank you so much for sharing your incredible journey with us. It is truly an honor to embrace you into our community of girls and women who are walking in our true value, identity, and purpose. Friends, please get a copy of Tori’s book, Fostered. You can visit our website at WonderfullyMade.org/podcast and find the link to Tori’s episode. Thank you so much for joining us. Tori, I truly hope that we can stay in touch with you.
Thank you so much. It was an honor.
- Tori Hope Petersen
- @ToriHopePetersen – Instagram
- Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family through Foster Care
- Beloved Initiative
- Unbelievably Resilient
- Foster Youth
- TikTok – Tori Hope Peterson
About Tori Hope Petersen
Tori Hope Petersen is living proof that God can do immeasurably more than you can ask or imagine. Her story is the inspiration we need to move the mountains in our lives and rise victoriously.
Guest 1 Bio: Tori Hope Petersen (named Mrs. Universe in 2021; Track and Field All-American) is a former foster youth letting her Abba be known. She is passionate about foster care reform, adoption advocacy, vulnerable populations, and seeing the love of God change people’s lives! Tori speaks across the nation sharing her powerful story, but her favorite form of art and communication is writing. Tori and her husband, Jacob, have the three sweetest kids: a biological son and daughter, Leyonder and Ezzeri, and an adopted adult son, Sar.