Unlikely Overcomer: Tori Hope & Jacob Petersen
Abandonment. Foster care. Juvenile hall: Tori Hope Petersen's life was looking bleak. But God had a different story in mind for this unlikely overcomer.
About the Guest
- Visit Tori's website at torihopepetersen.com 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
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
- Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
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Abandonment. Foster care. Juvenile hall: Tori Hope Petersen’s life was looking bleak. But God had a different story in mind for this unlikely overcomer.`
Unlikely Overcomer: Tori Hope & Jacob Petersen
Unlikely Overcomer: Tori Hope & Jacob Petersen
Dave: Alright, so tell me somebody that majorly impacted your life, besides me of course.
Ann: The gym teacher actually. Her name was Mrs. Brown and I remember Mrs. Brown came up to me one day, pulled me aside from the gym class and she said, “Hey, you know you have something really special. There’s an intensity, and a competitiveness, but there’s something really special about you.” I had never heard anything like that before and so when she said that, I don’t know why those worlds connected a little bit, like but is there a God? Could He have made me with something unique for something?”
Dave: Well, she was right. You are competitive. [Laughter]
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app. This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: You remember when we first got married and you know I would say, “You’re just so beautiful,” and you’d say, “No I’m not.” I used to think you were kidding and then I realized you really didn’t think that.
Ann: I had so many lies going on then.
Dave: –and it was all that baggage--
Dave: –from the past. But when somebody speaks the words of God and life to you it changes you.
Ann: –it draws you.
Dave: And we’ve got, you can hear her over there, you can hear Tori Hope Peterson going, “Mmm hmm.” She’s back in the studio with her husband Jacob. Man, your book Fostered talks about this but you know we’ve got to say welcome back to FamilyLife again.
Tori: Thank you.
Jacob: Thanks guys.
Dave: You know yesterday we got a little of your story so if you missed it go back and listen to it, but I’ll give you a Cliff notes version. You know Tori you ended up in how many–12 different foster homes. Amazing story you and Jacob and your kids now and four times all state whatever
Dave: –track star--
Tori: –yes, exactly
Dave: –author, speaker, but you mentioned a little bit yesterday and I’d love to hear more about that what Ann was just saying about your high school track coach. What was his name, Scott?
Tori: Scott, yes.
Dave: Yes, when I was reading about it, I thought, “Man, he changed your life.” Sort of like Mrs. Brown for Ann. Is that what he did when he spoke into you?
Tori: Absolutely. There was people who kind of just believed the stereotypes of foster care, that I was a bad kid. When I was in high school, I wanted to go to a friend’s house, I wanted her to come to my house and she went. You know we didn’t have phones then, so she went and asked her dad and then she came and gave me her answer the next day. She said, “My dad said that we can’t hang out because you’re in foster care.”
And that was just like, okay I understand what people think about me, being in care and I was kind of labeled like this bad kid. So when my track coach, I didn’t know this then, people were telling him like, “If you associate yourself with her you’re going to get in trouble and she’s trouble,” and he said, “I think she’s a good kid, like I think she has a lot of potential.” I think he could see that God had a plan and a purpose for my life. He told me, “Tori, I think you can go on to the state track meet. I think you can win it,” and I did and that’s what allowed me to get a full ride scholarship to college. Only three percent of youth who’ve experienced the foster care system go on to get a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Tori: And so he really did change the trajectory of my life.
Ann: Let me ask you Tori, take yourself back to 14-15 year old Tori. If we played the recorder of what was going on in your head of your self-talk, on a bad day what did you hear?
Tori: Mm, I can very easily like, know those thoughts because I still battle them today. And I still have to like remind myself of God’s truth but it’s that I’m a sabotager. I ruin everything I touch. I’m not worthy of love. I don’t know how to love and I’m not capable of love and other people are not able to love me because I’m just too much.
Tori: I always thought that I was just too much.
Ann: I’m so sorry for that. I feel like that can be something a lot of us feel and even listeners identify like I identify with that and yet we don’t always share it.
So, you guys end up meeting senior year in college. You fall in love. We talked about this yesterday, you get pregnant, and felt bad about it but you also loved each other, and God blessed you with this amazing little boy, got married. So, Jacob, did you have any idea when you got married that this was some of the things that Tori was battling with? Because she had given her life to Jesus and surrendered everything.
Jacob: There was this one time I think it was Valentine’s Day, and I went to the store to get flowers and I think it was a steak.
Dave: Were you married yet or–
Jacob: No, no we were dating, we were dating at this time and unbeknownst to me I pulled my car out of the driveway of the house I was living in, and I started going down to the store. Apparently, Tori had walked to my house, and she saw me leave and she thought I was leaving forever.
Jacob: I had no, I had no idea.
Dave: Which was a common experience in your life.
Tori: It was very strange, it was a very strange day, yes. I think that we hadn’t talked like the whole day, which was very unusual. I think you just had like a heavy class load and then like I was supposed to come to your house at that time like you were supposed to be there, but I think you were just running behind and you went to go to the store and to me I was like, “He’s done. Like he’s leaving me like everybody else. He’s leaving me forever. He has different plans today and he’s never coming back because–”
Tori: –that’s what everyone else had done.
Ann: –and because, “I’m not worthy.”
Tori: –and yes, like I’m not worthy of love.
Dave: So, how’d you tell him or how’d you find out?
Ann: –yes, how did that end up?
Tori: I think I just went to go hang out with friends, but I was still like internally distraught, and I was like texting, “You could at least tell me you were going to leave or something.”
Tori: And then, I went back to my house and there was like a card [Laughter] and a steak and he was like, “I went to get you,” it was guacamole, you’re like, “I went to go get you guacamole,” because guacamole is my favorite. And I was like, “I think that was like all my issue,” [Laughter] whatever happened I was like, “I think that was all, that was a Tori moment.”
Ann: But I’m guessing you both have seen like, “Oh, I didn’t know that was there.”
Tori: Oh yes.
Ann: How do you guys deal with that and how let me ask you, I’ll do two questions. How do you deal with that but also how do you speak the truth to each other, the good identity the truth?
Tori: Hmm, I wouldn’t say we handle it perfectly or even well. I think we’re still navigating it. We haven’t even been married five years and so I feel like we are the last people like anybody wants marriage advice from, truly. But I think something that we’ve tried really hard to do is keeping people around us that have good marriages.
Tori: And then we ask people a lot of questions, like you know, “How do you have a good marriage? Why do you feel like you have a good marriage? What do you think you guys do?” There’s like that quote or idea that you become like the top five people you hang around.
Tori: I think we take that very seriously and we really care to surround ourselves with people who have good marriages, who have strong faith, who are raising their kids like we want to raise our children. We have amazing people. It probably has very little to do with us and everything [Laughter] to do with the people in our lives.
Jacob: That’s very fair. We definitely probably model ourselves after what we’re seeing in our role models more than we are maybe identifying in each other. I think that can you know get kind of bumpy you know if you’re–because I know that in our argumenting it can get picky really fast. “Well you do this,” or “You do that.” Now it’s hard to identify and really speak encouragement into each other. I think in the future I would love for us, as maturing Christ-followers for us to be able to do that for each other.
Tori: Mm hmm
Jacob: But I think in this early stage of our marriage, yes, right now it’s just relying on the body and the people that God has put in front of us to help us see each other.
Dave: –I mean do you guys feel safe now with each other Tori? I mean when he pulls out of view do you have those thoughts anymore?--
Tori: Oh yes.
Dave: --or do you feel like we’re secure?
Tori: No, we’re secure like I know Jacob will never leave me and I know that I will never leave Jacob. Well, like our marriage isn’t pretty, it’s not perfect but we love each other, and I know that like we’ll never give up on each other.
One of the things that we’ve noticed–so both of our love languages is words of affirmation. I know there’s like no science behind the love languages, but I do think that stuff is real. Like it is legit. I think something that we’ve noticed and that actually that we’re talking about and working on right now is that when both of your love languages is words of affirmation, what you do is you wonder why didn’t this person affirm me? He’s wondering why didn’t Tori affirm me? And instead, it’s like when you speak life into the other, then they are built up and they start speaking life into you, rather than looking at yourself and feeling, “Hello, like did you see my good works?” Um, [Laughter] that’s something that--
Jacob: I have something to say to that. [Laughter] I think it’s because both of our love languages are words of affirmation. What’s funny is that Tori will affirm me in the ways that she wants to be affirmed. So, she’ll come to me softly and quietly and say, “Hi honey, you did a really good job.” And I just want a good pat on the back. [Laughter]
Ann: What’s that sound like?
Jacob: It’s the good–I just want a “Hey, good job, man–” you know hubby, like that’s what I want which is totally different. They are both words of affirmation, but the approach is that we bring to each other. When I give you a word of affirmation it’s usually kind of loud, in the form of a song.
Tori: But, no, no, no, no, but that’s what he used to do but he started to write me letters.
Tori: Because I love, I love words and like tangible words that I can go back to mean a lot to me. So, he writes me letters like every week and before I go on trips a lot for traveling for speaking and he’ll always put a letter in the book I’m reading or in my Bible that I take with me. That’s been something that–it’s really meant a lot to me.
Ann: That’s really beautiful because that is, it’s meeting her need. And then I’m thinking through too in terms of your relationship with God, you’ve given your life to Jesus, how old were you when that happened?
Tori: I was 17 and I would say I know that throughout my life I know God was there, like a lot. I spent some time in a juvenile detention center, in juvie. The only thing that you could have in your jail cell was a Bible. So, I didn’t know anything about the Lord but I’m reading the Bible and I’m reading the book of Colossians and Paul is in jail. I’m like, “Well, I’m in jail, I must be like Paul.” [Laughter]
And I’m like encouraged and then I remember there was this Scripture that said, “Be a joyful giver,” [Paraphrased] I don’t know a lot of people listening to this can’t see me, but I am mixed and so my hair is frizzy. When we were in juvie, we couldn’t have any conditioner we could only have, like use a little ketchup cups, like the little ketchup cups we used to be able to get from McDonalds, of shampoo. And that didn’t work for my hair.
So, my mom was calling people, this is how my mom can be really cool. She was calling people and she was, “If you don’t give my daughter conditioner it’s going to be medical neglect.” So, I ended up getting conditioner. I was like, “I’m going to be a joyful giver.” When the guards weren’t looking, I’d like squeeze a little conditioner in the other girls’ shampoo. I know that’s silly, but I really do feel like God was present in those moments and He was encouraging me. If Paul can encourage the church of Colossi, I’m going to encourage these girls. And I’m like, but I didn’t know, like I didn’t give my life to Jesus until I was 17.
Ann: What did you do to get in juvie?
Tori: So, my mom and I--
Dave: –Gee whiz honey you’re getting pretty picky here.
Tori: –I know, you can ask that. My mom and I, my mom was hitting me and I hit her back for the first time. And she called the cops, and I went to juvie for a domestic violence, and I spent 18 days there.
Tori: And then we went to court, so we went to court for that and every kid when they’re going to court for something they get something that’s called a guardian ad Litem, you’re probably familiar with that or GAL. Foster kids get them or kids that you know their parents are getting a divorce. And they had kind of seen that there was something wrong in the home through this experience. I had actually gone to foster care, I was kind of in and out of foster care since the age of 12 and so this was one of the moments that I went back for a very short stint, ended up in juvie, and my GAL was trying to take me to these private rooms. My mom was like banging on the door, “You are not allowed to talk to my daughter alone.” We would go move to another room and my mom was screaming and making just a scene at the courthouse where you know there’s like cops, and judges, and people in law enforcement.
Ann: She was afraid--
Tori: –that I would tell them. We already had an open case at this time and so she was afraid that if everything came out, then I would go into foster care, she would go to jail. And my GAL was just like, “You can tell me everything,” and so I did. That was the day that I went into foster care for good. It was actually not because of what I said but because the judge was like, “There’s something else going on here,” if my mom didn’t want me to talk to someone by myself if she [mom] was that upset about it.
Ann: So, it is amazing that there you are, you get some conditioner and you’re trying to give it away, that’s what I’m saying but you felt like God was wooing you.
Tori: Oh absolutely.
Ann: You might not have known Him to the point you are now, but He knew you.
Tori: I love that word. I really do feel like that is, - that I’ve never used that word but that’s how I feel. I feel like God was just wooing me like my whole life. It wasn’t until I was 17 that I was able to look back and see like, oh He was there all along
Tori: I could see Him in these moments over and over again, where He was protecting me and preparing me. He was caring for me, and where He really was like paving the way for me to be where I am today.
Ann: I think of all our listeners. We’ve talked to so many with kids that have gone astray or that are prodigals and I think it’s encouraging to hear stories like that of knowing that like God sees my kids. God sees my spouse. God knows where they are, and He will woo them and bring them. He might give them a little extra conditioner. You know that could [Laughter] be the way that He’s saying, “I see you. I see what you need.”
Dave: Well, how is it–you know I’m sitting here listening to you going, “There’s so many others, that you know, more than I know, that have gone through a similar experience and they’re not sitting here saying, “God was there. God was wooing.” They’re saying the opposite. You know, “God abandoned me,” and their lives are just fractured. You know better than anybody--
Ann: And yours could have been as well--
Dave: –and here you are saying the opposite.
Ann: –with a great husband and two kids
Tori: Well, I said that, like it’s what I said for a really long time. One of the questions I have and one of the questions I think people that feel that way ask, “How can we experience this egregious suffering, how can innocent children experience such pain if God is so good and so loving?”
When my foster mom kept taking me to church, kept being faithful, I learned and it’s like a hard truth some people don’t like it. But we are made in the image of God, and we are called to reflect Christ. If that’s the case, right, like our suffering is going to bring about glory and we are going to experience suffering as Christ experienced suffering like that what it means to reflect Him. But the hope is, like we can look at Jesus’ suffering and see that there is glory in it, that it’s not wasted. So, when we’re suffering, we’re going through this pain, we know that God will not waste it. He’s going to be faithful through it. But we have to hold on and we have to hold on to that hope that God is going to finish what He started.
Dave: Yes, and it is interesting too. We said yesterday, you know your mom, I didn’t know some of the details you revealed about your mom today. But even in that she named you with a name that defines your life: Hope. Jeremiah 29:11 “I have plans and a hope for you,” so it’s--
Ann: –and victorious
Dave: –it’s a, it’s this messy, negative hurtful, and in the middle of that there’s this grace of the thread of God’s love coming through even in a name where she blessed you even in the middle of all that.
Tori: Yes, and I think that I really do believe that God can work through unbelievers. God can work through broken people and my mom was very broken, but I feel like, it’s almost like God gave her a prophecy.
Tori: This is what you’re going to speak over your daughter, and it rang true. I think that’s another way I can look back on what God was doing and who He said I was, and just like knowing okay He is faithful. He was always there.
Ann: As we close, you’re talking about your love language being words of affirmation so let me just say to you Tori, like it’s been pretty amazing to see God’s hand on you. It’s inspiring and I think part of it as I look at you, not all of our listeners will be able to see you, but you are a woman of beauty and grace. Like you’re petite but there’s this strength inside of you that is beautiful. I feel like God’s hand has always been on you. There’s been a protection about you and continues to be and I feel like you listen to Him and you’ll always go where He calls you to go. It’s really beautiful to see the impact you’re having now, the impact you guys will both have together, and then as a family too. It’s powerful. Thank you for what you’re doing for foster care and being an advocate for kids and families that are fostering. It’s been inspiring.
Tori: Thank you guys so much for having us. It’s an honor.
Dave: You know I really grew to love Jacob and Tori Peterson.
Ann: Me too
Dave: We should have said this during the program, but it just reminds me of Genesis 50:20 where Joseph said what they intended for evil God intended for good [Paraphrased]. And you know there’s so much evil and heartbreak that took place in Tori’s life and she sits over here across from us and she’s full of hope. That’s her middle name. [Laughter] And inspiration that God can still do a miracle even out of the muck. He brings you know marvelous--
Dave: –truth in lives.
Ann: –Yes, and their legacy will be totally different and I just, I love their heart for fostering. I love their heart for family and for life. It’s beautiful.
Dave: Yes, and I would say to you that are partners praying for this ministry and even given financially thank you. You enable us to bring stories like this to people. There’s somebody that heard that story today that thought their life is too broken, their past is too messed up, and today they got hope to say, “Hey, maybe God could use me. Maybe my future is bright.” You helped that program get into their soul and they’re going to change the world because of hearing this story. So, thanks for letting us get that out.
Shelby: Yes, thank you so much for your partnership and now such a great time to become a FamilyLife partner because of how the Lord has specifically provided.
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So, I mentioned additional life-changing resources. Well, we’ve been listening to Tori Hope Peterson and Jacob Peterson here on FamilyLife Today. Tori has written a book called Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family Through Foster Care. You can head over to FamilyLIfeToday.com to pick up a copy there.
Now tomorrow on FamilyLIfe Today Dave and Ann Wilson are in the studio with Jen Wilkin. She’s going to be talking to us about what it means to be a woman, how to thrive as a biblical woman and all the different specifics that come with that and the confusion that can often be around that topic. It’s going to be a great one tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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