Finding Faith in Foster Care with Tori Hope Petersen

Transcript: Tori Hope Petersen - Finding Faith in Foster Care

Transcript: Tori Hope Petersen - Finding Faith in Foster Care

[00:00:00] Taylor: Today on Accordance to your Purpose, we have Tori Hope Petersen. Tori is a foster care mom, advocate, and a former foster kid herself. She was also Miss Universe and she's a speaker and author. Here's my talk with Tori.

[00:00:14] Tori, I appreciate you coming on this show. For my listeners who aren't familiar with your story, why don't we just start at the beginning and you can tell me from your childhood up until now, because you've had a lot happen to you.

[00:00:27] Tori: Yes. I was born to a single mom who grew up very in, in just very difficult circumstances. She had experienced human trafficking abuse. And so when I was three years old, I went into the foster care system due to a drug bust. And I did not want to go into the foster care system. I wanted to be with my mom.

[00:00:48] Because you know, when you're living in dysfunction, when you're that young, you don't know that it's dysfunction. And the foster care system did its job. I was reunified with my mom just months later, but then as I got older, my mom's mental I illness, it just got worse. And so I had to go into the foster care system again. This time with my sister who's 10 years younger than me.

[00:01:11] And I actually thought it was a good thing. I felt like we were gonna be escaping the abuse and the neglect and maybe we would have a family that would take care of us. But within a month of being in that home together, my sister and I were separated and throughout my entire time in foster care, I moved throughout 12 foster homes. I emancipated the day I turned 18.

[00:01:34] Because of community support, a lot of people pouring into me, I did have the chance to go to college and now I do advocacy work for youth in foster care and I get to equip and call out and empower the Church to care for the orphan and the widow through a social media platform as well as national speaking.

[00:01:57] Taylor: I have to imagine that your scenario of going to college. And you were Miss Universe, correct?

[00:02:05] Tori: Yeah, I won the title Miss Universe in 2020.

[00:02:09] Taylor: Okay. So I have to imagine that is not typical of the foster care child. Is that the outcomes are typically not as good as they have been for you. How old were you when you went into foster care?

[00:02:24] Tori: So the first time I was 3, and then the second time I was 12. I went to go with kinship and then like I came back with my mom again. But I was like, the foster care system was still heavily involved and then I went out again, like into foster care, kinship, not involved when I was 13.

[00:02:41] Taylor: You went to 12 homes after that? After your 13th birthday?

[00:02:45] Tori: So there was 11 homes, that second half, and then there was one, the first half.

[00:02:52] Taylor: What prevented you when you went through so many homes? What prevents a typical foster kid from being, adopted or incorporated into a single family throughout there... because I have to imagine that many homes being placed in that many homes is tough, especially for a kid. It would be tough for an adult.

[00:03:13] Tori: Yeah. I totally felt like people didn't want me, like I was displaced a lot. Like I was just thrown out. But I know now that I was under a very specific and unique case plan. It was called a PPLA, which stands for Permanent Placement Living Arrangement. And not a lot of states have it. So I grew up in Ohio and. It's unique to Ohio, but basically what it meant was that the county, they did have full custody of me, but my mom's rights were not terminated. So usually when a child enters into care, there are like only two options, and that is they're reunified with their family or they go to kin or the parents' rights are terminated and then they are adopted by a foster family. And so I was like in this unique middle where my mom's rights were not terminated, but I was in full custody of the State. So my mom still had a lot of power and influence and say over my life. And so she did not want me to be adopted.

[00:04:24] And it is true. I wasn't an orphan. I was in a way that my dad had passed away before I was born and there are different kinds of orphans. So there's, I was technically a paternal orphan and then there's like a something called a social risk orphan, which means you can't live with your biological parents due to financial circumstances, social economic resources, and that was the case for me.

[00:04:52] And so my mom had a lot of say over my case and when I was moving from home to home, what I saw was that a lot of people wanted to foster kids that were younger. And when I, now I speak at like these big conferences, I used to take offense to that. Like I thought no one wanted me because I was older. But now I go to these big conferences and I teach and I listen to others speakers. And something that's a rule in foster care is that you foster kids that are younger than your biological children. I didn't know that. My husband and I haven't followed that rule, but it is like a rule of thumb.

[00:05:30] And then a another thing in the foster care system that's very prevalent is a large part of the foster care community is the infertility community. Because when you go to adopt an infant, it's a lot of money, if you don't do it through the foster care system. It can be upwards of $50,000 or more.

[00:05:49] If you adopt through the foster care system, you're paid a stipend and it doesn't cost you anything. So a lot of parents are going into the foster care system to take in younger children, and I just, I was older.

[00:06:02] Taylor: Does that frustrate you coming from that world yourself? Does the idea of parents getting in specifically to adopt rather than I guess for the betterment of the kid frustrates you?

[00:06:15] Tori: I think if I didn't know God and if I didn't know that he's good, it would frustrate me. But I do see that he can work in our hearts and he can change them. I think that it is hard sometimes to see all these older kids yearn for a home. If you just Google America's Kids Belong or Adopt Us Kids, you're likely not gonna, you're not gonna find babies on there.

[00:06:43] You're gonna find older kids who are like literally begging people through these videos to be a part of a family. And that's really sad. And then if you look at the statistics on infant adoption, there are like over 2 million parents waiting to adopt infants. And so that, I wouldn't say that I'm like frustrated or I'm angry, I just think that I have to continue to talk about it because teenagers, older children, are God's children as much as infants are.

[00:07:15] Taylor: Know, I think what people would probably say is that there's a risk with older kids, but you've obviously not only lived a very successful life, but an inspiring life. What do you think has made the difference in your life that you could impart to these kids?

[00:07:38] Tori: I would say that like I was a risk, right? I was a risk. But I am the way I am. I am who I am now because there were people that came into my life and said, "We're gonna take the risk". Like we're gonna love her anyway. I had a track coach who came into my life my sophomore year of high school. And then between my junior and senior year, he was like, "Tori, I think that you can go into the state track meet and you can win it".

[00:08:00] And there were a lot of people that were like, "She's gonna be a statistic". They were speaking such hurtful things over me. And he was one of the first people who ever gave me like a very tangible goal. And I was like, okay, we're just gonna try for it. Like I don't really have anything else I'm going for. I don't have anything else to lose. And he took me in and he became my father figure. He's the man that I called dad today. He walked me down the aisle at my wedding. He is who my kids call grandpa. And I became a four-time state champion in track and field. That's what allowed me to go to college. And you were right when you said earlier, only 3% of youth who have experienced foster care go to graduate with a bachelor's degree.

[00:08:35] But it was because there were people in my life and there were there that was my track coach. There were a lot. It was a whole community though. Like it really does take a village. And it was these people that were like, we're gonna take the risk even though people are telling us to wash our hands of this girl. Even though people are telling us that this girl is trouble.

[00:08:51] And so I would encourage people to take the risk, and I'd also encourage youth in foster care that those things that are spoken over you about being a statistic, those stereotypes that you feel like plague you and that you have to carry that are such a heavy weight, like that's just not who God says you are.

[00:09:09] God says that you are a child of his, and when people kick you out of their homes, when people don't want you, God says, I created a room for you in the kingdom of heaven.

[00:09:18] Taylor: So I think what's so interesting about your message specifically is... I watched your TED Talk and one of the things that you talk about in your TED Talk is that you have a file that kind of follows you as a foster kid.

[00:09:32] You described it as the worst things that have ever happened to you, the worst things that you ever done, that's what follows you. And I have to imagine that has - that's a lot of weight on a kid to go into a home and either have to prove yourself against that file or to almost live into it. It's almost like an expectation of you to be who this file says you are or you're trying to fight up against it and you're trying to prove maybe... expressing yourself in ways to try to prove that you're not that person.

[00:10:12] Is that a typical scenario for most foster kids? Is that they are stuck behind what the system says that they are? Is that the primary thing that keeps them from breaking out ?

[00:10:24] Tori: I do you think that healing begins and ends with identity. And I think that, youth in foster care, they need healing from the trauma that they have endured. I do believe that these statistic, these files, the stereotypes that are spoken over youth in foster care, is a huge hindrance because they cannot see who they are created to be.

[00:10:45] They can't see that they have gifts and talents and that those things can be used for their future. And so when you're in the foster care system, So discouraging. When I was in the system, I was very isolated because of the rules that revolved around my case. There's an act now that's passed called The Normalcy Act that I think would've helped me, but it says that youth in foster care can experience things that youth who do not live in foster care can experience.

[00:11:09] Like going to a football, like a high school football game or going to a friend's house. I couldn't do those things, and so I felt very isolated. Very depressed. I didn't have a lot of friends and so there just wasn't I was a lifeguard for some time. And then I had a foster mom who had me quit that job because she didn't wanna drive me cuz I couldn't get my driver's license when you're in the foster care system.

[00:11:32] And so there were all these things where I couldn't see that there was going to be anything better. Like all of the things that I'm good at today. Like I love people, I love being with them. I love posting and I love working. Like all of those things that I am good at now were taken from me as a kid.

[00:11:53] Like I couldn't do them. And so I think when we take these things away from kids, they can't see their future and that's super discouraging. We don't see that there's going to be life beyond the system.

[00:12:09] Taylor: A lot of people's view of God is connected to maybe their church or their parents. And if they have a negative relationship with their parents, they kind of place that view on God. And I have to imagine that these kids have been given a really rough hand that it's not always as easy as saying "Hey I love you. You're worthwhile. You can make something of your life."

[00:12:35] Seeing you now, it's hard for me to imagine a different version of you because you're so giving, just in your presence and the way that you present yourself. What do you think made the difference either in relationship to God or in relationship to how you view yourself. What do you think made the difference in your life to help you see yourself in a correct light.

[00:13:01] Tori: Yeah, I feel like there's so many different pieces to it. I will say, growing up in foster care, moving from home to home was very hard, but it was also a gift in a way that I could. I got to live with people very intimately, a lot of very different people, and. You think of now on social media, we'll see someone's opinion and we can just scroll past it and really not have a second thought about it, even if we do or don't agree with it. But when I was in the foster care system, I'm living with these different families very intimately and I'm getting to know them. And I think through that I understood that people really do believe what they believe or conduct themselves, the way they conduct themselves for good reason. And I think that put a compassion or empathy in me. And then seeing other kids come from really hard places and not being able to overcome them because they, people are like, Oh, pick yourself up from your bootstraps.

[00:14:03] So like, how do you do that if you were never given a pair of boots? And so I think really seeing that metaphorically in a lot of ways growing up has created an empathy for me too. I want to be generous with what God has done in my life. I wanna be giving with it because I feel if I'm not, I'm really wasting the work that God has done. The testimony that he's given me.

[00:14:27] And then it doesn't allow for other youth who have grown up like me to come out of their circumstances. When I was in college I did see other former foster youth who were successful doing some of the work that I do. And I think that it is so inspiring to see other people who have went through what you've went through.

[00:14:52] It's like represent, people are like representation matters and it does like in terms of skin color or the way that you speak, but it also really matters in terms of background because when we see that, Someone else has went through what we've went through and they've overcome, then we think, okay, maybe I can do that too.

[00:15:12] And then there's, of course, there's this faith aspect of God. I didn't want anything to do with him because I had a set of foster parents that proclaimed his name, but they abused their kids behind closed doors, and that was very confusing to me. I was being very drawn towards the heart of Jesus, like understanding that he was loving and compassionate, and he met this broken woman at the well.

[00:15:36] And I'm like, I'm the broken woman at the well. Like I want to be met by this loving person. And. The people that proclaimed him though were really hurting children that I cared for. I was like so confused and so then I moved from that home because of that situation.

[00:15:52] I moved from that home to my 12th foster home, my last one. And the foster mom there, she was just so loving and so kind. And like everything that I'm saying about her, she would say about herself, not the loving and kind thing. She wouldn't say that, but the thing that I'm about to go into. She like hated fitness, hated eating healthy. I ran track and so I was like, Gigi, we gotta eat healthy.

[00:16:16] Like we gotta go exercise. And like I had one on one practices with my track coach. She had to be there cuz that wasn't allowed. So she had to be present the whole time. And she would walk around the track for like hours and she would be like, I hate this but I love you.

[00:16:33] And okay, she taught me this recipe. It's cream cheese. This is what you need to make this dip. It's the best dip. It's a stick of cream cheese, a stick of butter, and a can of corn. Okay. That is the epitome of Gigi and I love her so much. I would be like, Gigi, we can't eat this. We gotta eat something different and we would go to the grocery store and she would get me my healthy food cuz I wanted to run track and I wanted to be good at it. And there are some people who are like, "Oh, Tori, that's like normal. Like parents just do that". But other foster, there were no other foster parents that did that for me.

[00:17:07] So for me that was a really big deal and I really saw it as a means of sacrifice and as a means of love in her life. I was like, oh, this is what Jesus' love looks like. Jesus' love doesn't - It's not always comfortable. It loves people the way that they need to be loved. Not in a way that it is comfortable for the giver.

[00:17:30] And so I think it's really people's lives too that loved me well that makes me want to love people well. And cuz there's right there I experienced these two. I'm not saying that my 11th foster home that they weren't Christian, that they didn't love the Lord, but I do believe that there are two ways that we can walk out our faith.

[00:17:49] In one way, it really hurts people because it confuses them and it takes them away. It makes them step back from Jesus. And then there's another way in which we're consistent to his character and to what we're proclaiming. And that makes people curious. That makes people wonder, What do you have that I do not have and how can I love, like Jesus loves?

[00:18:13] Taylor: In my life, some of the things that I've struggled with, I struggled with pretty serious depression when I was in college and it was a burden to me. But now, it's still something I struggle with. I have a handle on it, but it has become something that has allowed me to make something that helps others, in the form of our app. But this thing that used to be this burden has become the superpower. I wonder if you are, looking backwards, almost thankful for the experience that you've had? Given that you can now speak that into other people's lives.

[00:18:51] Tori: Yeah.

[00:18:51] Taylor: Is that...

[00:18:52] Tori: Yeah.

[00:18:52] Taylor: How you feel?

[00:18:53] Tori: Yes, that's exactly how I feel. I love that you worded it that way, and I think that's what that's what God does, right?

[00:19:03] And we see that in scripture of the worst things that have happened to people, God uses it for his glory and God uses it for good. And I think as a kid that was the hope that I held onto. I remember being in a juvenile detention center, so that's like juvie kid jail. I was like in a kid jail for 18 days and the only thing that I could have in myself was the Bible.

[00:19:24] And I didn't come to the Lord. I didn't wanna live my life for him. But I remember like just reading it because there was nothing else to do. And being like oh maybe like this. Maybe sitting in a jail cell. Maybe the worst things that have happened to me, maybe my abuse, like maybe it'll all turn out okay someday.

[00:19:41] Maybe it'll all be okay. And maybe actually it'll be used for good. So I do think that's totally how I feel. My story. Sharing it has also.. Yeah, it's helping people. I get messages of people like, they're like, I'm gonna get involved in foster care because of you or I've gotten messages saying We're adopting our daughter because we started foster care two years ago because of you.

[00:20:09] And yes, God has using it for good, but what God has also done is he has healed me with it because in the foster care system, I was so like not heard. I felt like I was very disregarded, not cared for. And now, like for my entire career, I'm heard. People listen to me and I get to have a voice, and then I get to help other people have a voice in their own stories.

[00:20:34] So it's not even just like this superpower that's helping people, but it's also helping me.

[00:20:39] Taylor: Do you still feel like you hold onto some of those things that you picked up when you were a kid in terms of the self worth?

[00:20:46] Tori: Yes. Yeah, absolutely. When I was - in the foster care system, all those negative labels that were placed on me I always remember thinking like, I don't want them to think I'm a bad kid. I gotta show 'em that I'm not a bad kid. That was my objective for everything. I was a 4.0 student. I wanted to be valedictorian my junior year, I got taken out of school for three weeks and placed in a group home because I couldn't find a home for me, and my grades dropped then. But I wanted to be valedictorian so badly because my whole hope was to like be on stage and for parents to see that see I'm not a bad kid. A valedictorian can't be a bad kid. Someone who gets a 4.0 can't be a bad kid. And there was so much motivation for me to do well in track because I just really wanted like people to be like, Wow, she's actually good. Like she's good at things and that must mean she's a good kid. Even to this day, there are relationships that are still broken. And when I won state, when I went to college, graduated from college, there have always been a wave of people that have come back. Whether it's foster parents, people who kicked me out, people who thought I was bad.

[00:21:56] People have always came back and apologized or wanted to be a part of my life in some capacity and that makes it does make me feel good. I'm like seeing your say like, you wanna be in my life cuz you don't think I'm a bad person. Like you don't think I'm a bad kid.

[00:22:08] And so now as an adult, if I have an accomplishment or if I have something coming up, I'll be like, oh, I hope these people that maybe I still have broken relationships from my past. Maybe they'll see this and they'll like, come back and wanna be a part of my life. I still have that today. And if those people don't come back. Or if the thing that I did wasn't as successful as I wanted it to be, I have to be like it's okay. Like I have to talk myself down and tell myself that, like I'm not bad.

[00:22:36] Taylor: How do you hold those ideas with social media and spending so much time online? Your story has become your job. And that's a weird place to be. Because I would throw myself in that camp too. There's a weird social validation thing that kind of comes from this type of work. How do you manage that?

[00:22:54] Tori: Yeah. And there's also like a lot of mean people like, I'm sure

[00:22:58] Taylor: Yes.

[00:22:59] Tori: They are like really mean things that come at me. And I think that in, in high school I was not very nice. Right cuz hurt people, but healed people help heal people. And I was a hurt person.

[00:23:17] And so I remember one time I went to school and there was a girl who like dye her hair. And I went up to her and I was like your hair is ugly. And and for me I was like, he would be like, "Tori, that's not nice". I'm like, But it's the truth, and but it wasn't me.

[00:23:32] Taylor: Yeah. Truth teller

[00:23:34] Tori: I'm a truth teller. I look, do my little bobble head and my little point finger and it was like, not nice. Not nice. And, I realized though, that was a reflection of me, that said a lot more about me than it did the girl who dyed. It didn't say anything about the girl who died her hair. It just said that I was mean and hateful and hurting.

[00:23:54] And so the things that come across to me that are like, mean, hateful I just am like, yeah, that says a lot more about that person who's being mean than it does me. And I think, in terms of the social validation and the likes. I don't know if I I don't think that I know that answer. I think that it's a hard answer.

[00:24:24] Because part of it is like literally physiological. Like we know that now that like when a post does well or like when social media is dinging, that like literally our brains are like dopamine. I'm so happy. And so I don't know if I know the answer to that. I don't know if I've balanced it well. I don't know.

[00:24:49] I don't know if I'm doing it right and I wouldn't wanna steer anyone else the wrong way. I'm just doing it and hoping that it goes well. But I will say, maybe one thing I'll say. I don't have expectations, like when I post, I'm not like, this is gonna get 5,000 likes, or this is gonna get this many views.

[00:25:09] Like I'm just like, I hope that this works, and I think that once you do social media for so long, like that's just kind of your mindset. Hope this message gets out cuz like you're against an algorithm and there's only so much you can control. And so I just put the message out there and I pray over my work regularly.

[00:25:30] I don't pray over every post. I'm not like you Taylor. I ain't got a whole prayer app and stuff. But like I pray over my work often, and I just hope that it gets into the hands of the people that are meant to receive it.

[00:25:47] One of the stories that I hold onto, and this is like not social media, but it encourages me in all of my work, my very first speaking engagement. I was speaking to a group home, like first speaking engagement. I'm get, I'm on stage and I have to sit down because I'm like so nervous and I'm like shaking like my, you can visibly see my hand shaking and like the audience is far off and I don't even know what I said have no idea. I got off the stage.

[00:26:17] I started crying, like I just said yes, because they asked me and I was like, I don't wanna waste the good that God has done in my life. So I'm just gonna say yes. And then three months later, a kid told me that he came to the Lord because of it. And I was just like, "Did I even talk about God?". So I am encouraged by things like that because I see that God splits your message.

[00:26:40] The message that we wanna put out there, God will split it a hundred ways. He will bless it if our heart's intent is good. And. He will do - I don't even I don't even know what he's gonna do with it. He can do what I cannot do.

[00:26:55] Taylor: I agree with all of that. That's been the biggest thing is just being able to let go. I find that when I let go of the things that I want, I get better things than I could have imagined. Which is odd. You know?

[00:27:13] Tori: Taylor, yes. I literally, that is like one of the big points of my book because I prayed, like prayed growing up for a dad. I was like, God, just give me a dad. Because if I had a dad, I wouldn't go into the foster care system, and if I had a dad that I wouldn't be searching for all these guys' validation.

[00:27:34] I always felt like a dad would just solve all my problems. And then when I came to the Lord, I was like, oh, like you're my dad. Like you're my father. Like you're the father that I've been yearning for. You have protected me. You have loved me better than any earthly father could have.

[00:27:50] And I just let go of I'm like, I don't even need a father, like you're my father and I'm so content. And I found so much joy in that because, there was so much brokenness and abuse that came from parental figures and now I'm realizing like, Oh, I have a parental figure. Has healed all of that, that has come over all of that.

[00:28:07] And he did not cause that. The fall has caused that, but he can heal that. There's so much peace in that. And I just let go. And then literally months later, God gifted me with my track coach, who is my father till this day. And it's so many times in my life when I'm just like, Okay, God, like this is yours. I'm letting go of it. He gives me above and beyond what I could have you been imagine.

[00:28:35] Taylor: Yeah. Yeah. That's powerful. Just taking a step back, something that you mentioned there is abuse a big part of the foster care system? Is that a typical experience for most kids?

[00:28:49] Tori: I honestly think it is. That's really sad, but yeah, I think it is. I actually went to go speak at a group home a few weeks ago. There's a lot of negative connotation around congregate care group homes. Because people believe that kids need to be in family settings, which I think is true. Like God created the family, kids need to be in family settings, but there are also residential treatment facilities that are for acute clinical needs. They're very much needed. And I lived in a group home and it helped me very much through the mandatory counseling that I had to attend. But I was speaking at this group home and then I was speaking to the kids that I was talking to more like one on one after the event.

[00:29:39] And there was a kid that came up to me and he was like, "Do you ever do, did you ever not wanna leave like your group?" And I was like, "No I always wanted to be in a family. Why don't you wanna leave your group home? Like why wouldn't you wanna leave here?" And he said "the family that I'm going to, he was adopted by a foster family and he was saying that the family is very abusive."

[00:30:00] And he was like, This is like the safest place I've ever been. And it just really took me back because it's like we put these like huge labels over congregate care and we're like, It's bad, it's abusive, but like it, he literally said, This is the safest place I've ever been and like, I don't wanna leave.

[00:30:16] And then we put like this good connotation on foster families where that's where he was being abused. And so I don't wanna say that there's like a big blanket statement on either. I just think that, I think that in both, like there. There's abuse in both. There are safe places.

[00:30:36] Taylor: Is a group home like an orphanage for foster kids? Is it...

[00:30:42] Tori: Yes. I say that. What I say is that, America says we don't have orphanages because we just wanna take pride in ourselves. But we do, we just call them group homes and they're not as big. Like the law, the laws that we have around group homes make them so that they can't be like orphanages in developing countries where it's like a hundred kids in one place.

[00:31:06] The group home that I was at, they had 10 kids to one home. That was the maximum that, that they would take. But yeah, it's like an orphanage in the way that it's not parents. It's a rotating staff. And they don't eat like around the dinner table. They eat - They go to eat in a cafeteria. So it, it's more like an institution than it is a family home.

[00:31:31] Has it been your experience that kids in foster.

[00:31:33] Taylor: When they get out, they have a lot of disconnection. Because I imagine that's a very disconnecting experience to - I don't know, it just feels institutional. You know?

[00:31:46] Tori: Yeah. Yeah, There's a very common diagnosis for youth in foster care called people call it RADs. Or it stands for Reactive Attachment Disorder.

[00:31:59] Kids develop it, when they are very neglected. And they, because they're very neglected, they form unhealthy attachment styles. And so yeah it's common. And it is really sad because when you are a youth in foster care, and when I was in foster care, you move from home to home and you like leave without saying goodbye, and then you just have to instantly form a relationship with the next person.

[00:32:28] And it's so forced. It doesn't create like these just natural ways, right? Where if you meet someone in a coffee shop or you meet someone at school or like anywhere, the relationship develops over time. You don't like to start living with someone very intimately and because you know we do it so abruptly, then there's like a pullback and you don't know if you can you ever draw in after that pullback because it's so abrupt on top of like being ripped out again and again.

[00:33:01] Taylor: How do you help kids that have an unhealthy attachment? I think that's something that kind of people are becoming more familiar with now, so I imagine that there's a lot of a lack of attachment or a fear of attachment or a hyper connection immediately. How do you try to establish some sort of healthy connection with the kids that you're a foster mom now. How do you manage that?

[00:33:22] Tori: I say that we have to contradict the trauma. So what I mean by that is, say I have had all these negative things spoken over me. I have been physically abused. We have to show youth that, something can break in the house. They can do something bad. They can get in a car accident. They can sneak out,. And we are not going to speak negatively over them, or it's not going to result in physical abuse.

[00:33:46] So that's contradicting the experiences that they've had, and then through time what they learn is that oh, not every person is going to abuse me, or not every person is untrustworthy, not every person is going to hurt me. And then when they have built that trust, and it takes a long time, like it took a long time with me and my track coach, like me and my track coach, it sounds like this Cinderella story, but when I moved into his home, I was such a butthead. I was not very nice. I always told him that he was like kicking me out and that I was going to leave, even though he like never kicked me out. And I would like, go away for a whole day and be like I'm never coming home. Because I didn't believe that we could have arguments, that we could have disagreements and he not kick me out, even though that's something like he never did.

[00:34:34] And so I think over time what I realized I was like, It's like he's not gonna kick me out. Like no matter what I do, he is always going to love me. And it's so funny. Now we like never have an argument about that. Because I don't have the fear. It was like this fight or flight reaction in me that if we had a disagreement, I was leaving. Like I had to leave. But now I know if we have a disagreement or if we have an argument, we're gonna hug and we're just gonna keep moving.

[00:35:03] Taylor: It's almost like you have a master's degree in learning how to like properly love people . That's what it, that's what it strikes me as.

[00:35:10] Tori: Oh my gosh, that's so nice. I say people are like, what - People have asked me like, what's your goal with your book? And people have asked me like, What's your goal with your life? And I say, to be a professional lover of people like that is my heart. I want to do that and I wanna teach other people to do that. And I, Taylor, like I have to apologize a lot.

[00:35:27] Let me tell, like I sound, you're like, Oh, you have this degree, but the other day so we have a tree in our yard. We live right in the middle of our town. There's a tree in our yard and it is scraping at our gutters. But the city won't cut us down cuz it's not our tree, but it's in our yard.

[00:35:45] Like the tree's in our yard. We own the house. But they're like, "no, it's not your tree, it's the city's tree". So it's like ruining our gutters. And I'm like calling them, I'm like, "Hey, can you like come cut down a tree? What's happening? What's popping?" And the lady is like telling me that it's on, it has to be voted for to cut.

[00:36:01] Like it's a whole thing. And. I know I already know this, but there's like damage on my house, so what should I do about the damage? And she's it's being voted. She's like repeating herself about it, being voted for. I'm like, No, but the damage. And then I yelled at her. I like, I was like, no, you are not listening to me.

[00:36:15] Stop talking. Just take a pause and listen to me. And like I did not talk to her kindly. And so yes, I wanna be a professional lover of people, but I'm not, I'm still working on it. And I actually had to call her back. I called her back and I was like, I just wanted to say that I'm really sorry for yelling at you.

[00:36:34] Taylor: See that's better than I would've done. I wouldn't have been called back. There's circumstances where you have to get loud.

[00:36:44] Tori: I felt so bad. I felt so bad that I yelled at her and I did try and call her back the other day and I can tell she's Oh, it's that stupid girl that yelled at me like she wants nothing to do with me. But now I'm like, I'm gonna kill you with kindness.

[00:37:00] Taylor: That's so funny. Has dealing with all of this and learning how to really approach people. Where do you feel that the Church goes wrong? Not necessarily with foster kids, but with just loving others. It's hard to love people and not impose your will on them. I think that's a common thing for people is that they want to love people the way that they want to love people.

[00:37:30] Tori: Yes. Yeah. Like love. Love says I have an agenda for me, but I don't have an agenda for you. And I think it's really hard. Like even me I have relationships in my life where I have expected those relationships to heal.

[00:37:52] The relationships of my parents or the relationships that were broken in foster care, like in my adult life. I've think I've put weight on people to be like people that they're not. Real love is me just loving them for who they are with what they bring and not having these weighty expectations.

[00:38:14] And so I wanna say that's legit. It's like a really hard thing to do, but. I was reading James the other day and at the end of James 1, that's the scripture on caring for the orphan and the widow. And then that's literally the last verse, and then it ends and goes to the second chapter of James.

[00:38:37] And so it's okay, you're calling us to this, but you don't even give us any instruction. Like it just ends right there. But I majored in Christian studies when I was in college and I so wish I would've taken my education more seriously because I did not know I was gonna be doing everything that I was doing now.

[00:38:52] I'm like, I'm just gonna be a mom and a wife, and I'm really happy about that. Now I'm a professional communicator about Jesus things, and I'm like, Ugh, okay. Anyway, the one thing that I took away was to take out the breaks, the titles that of put in scripture because those chapters in those titles were put in by the modern man.

[00:39:18] They weren't put in by the author. So it has seriously radically changed the way that I view scripture, interpret scripture and read it. And so I took that out. I took the two out and said, If I just kept reading, would James, does James keep giving us instruction here? And he does. So he says, care for the orphan and the widow.

[00:39:40] And then he calls us to not choose favoritism. He says that favoritism is actually sinful. He goes on to explain it, saying that if a rich man comes to you and a poor man comes to you, do not put the poor man at your feet. Put him at the place that you would put the rich man. And so I think what we're called to do in loving people is if a rich man would come into our home or come into our presence Like we would give him the time, we would not hesitate if there was someone that could invest in your app or if there was someone that could donate to my non-profit. We would give them the time. Like we, if they wanted to come into our house and stay the night, we would give them the best bed.

[00:40:24] We would cook them good food. We would make sure that they were taken good care of. And so I think. That's what scripture is calling us to. When it calls us to love people, is to create an equal space for those that do not have what we have, that do not have as much to create an equal space for them.

[00:40:46] Taylor: How do you make sense of your past experiences? Negative ones. Holding that worldview in your mind, holding that call to love people, how do you make sense of maybe abusive people? What would you say to somebody that has been through those things, maybe through no fault of their own?Whether it's foster care, maybe it's cancer. Thinking about what you've been through and now where you're at, what would you say to these people that are in the midst of it?

[00:41:17] Tori: Yeah. I think that a lot of people do not wanna hear what I have to say. But I like to look at Job. I think that, God said that the enemy could cause the suffering upon Job, knowing that job would remain faithful and that God would be greatly glorified. And then that generations like to me -

[00:41:44] I know the story of Job. I pray that people know the story of Tori and that it inspire those people, the way that job inspires me to continue to endure suffering for the glory of God and so that other people can hold on in the midst of the most pain they've ever been in.

[00:42:06] Taylor: Have you seen with the foster kids that you advocate for that even without telling them about your religion or your worldview that the way that you love them kind of leads them in that direction anyway? Has that been the primary mode of sharing with others? Is just loving on 'em?

[00:42:25] Tori: Yeah, that is the primary motive. They're, we are very close with someone who lives very differently than us. And we have had people live in our home that live very differently than us that they have, that they're atheists and they think that we're crazy, but and yeah, we don't agree with the way that they live, but we believe that if we love hard enough that they will see God's love in us. Because it's not us that's going to change them. I cannot change people, but I do believe that the Holy Spirit can change people. And so when it comes to, people are like these people need to know the truth or these people, they need to know the gospel. We need to preach to them. I do hope that it's not just my words. I really want it to be my life that makes people curious. Just like people, my foster mom did with me. She made me curious about God, and I asked, "What do you have that I don't have?" And then I wanted it, and so I hope that's what my life does.

[00:43:40] I hope that it's not just my words, my preaching, my speaking. I hope that it is my life that just draws people towards God because I don't believe that I can change people, but I do believe that God can.

[00:43:55] Taylor: Have you been struggling with the pull of this book and being present in your house? You're on the cusp of a lot of notoriety here. The book has a lot of buzz. Have you been struggling with the weight of that managing with your family?

[00:44:13] Tori: Taylor, I only canceled on you three times. So you know that I struggling. Yeah. I am struggling trying to balance my motherhood and my wife-hood and I have my sister who lives with me full time, so my sisterhood.

[00:44:28] My sister and I, we were separated from each other. I said that and we were separated from each other until the past year. And so now she lives with me full time. And so like I want to invest in that relationship as well. And I have littles and you always hear when you're a mom that they're only little once and then you're like terrified if you're a working mom.

[00:44:47] So yes, it is such a pull and I don't say that I balance it well. I say it's like a tight rope and I'm just walking it and I think that I fall off a lot, but I just get back on and keep trying to walk it out in a way that glorifies God, because I do think about a lot. I think everyone's seen it in ministry where you see have a powerful minister who has changed lives but their kids don't know the Lord or they don't have a good relationship with their children.

[00:45:28] And so I just take that very seriously and I try to balance it really well. And I, My son is only three, so like he doesn't understand everything I say, but I always tell him, you are first. And if you're ever not first, I hope you tell me so that I can correct myself. He's three. He doesn't know what I'm saying, but I hope that he'll look back, like I look back on the things that parents did for me - I hope that he'll be able to look back and say, my mom said that to me from the very beginning. And she gave me the opportunity to speak up so that I could be first in that so I could, that he could be my first ministry.

[00:46:12] Taylor: How do you ground yourself in your mission and your purpose? How do you stay plugged into that.

[00:46:18] Tori: I know it's so cliche, like it's what every like person in ministry says, but it's really because it's true. It's just staying in the word. Anything that comes out of me that is good is literally because I stay plugged into reading my Bible regularly. And when I don't I literally get insecure because I'm like, What could come out of me?

[00:46:42] Because what we put into ourselves is what we put out. It's just what we put out is just an overflow of our hearts. And so I do take being in scripture very seriously because I - when you're a communicator, I think that you have to.

[00:46:59] Taylor: This is a big right turn here. How did you get into the Miss Universe pageant stuff that seems it's so different than the rest of your life.

[00:47:09] Tori: It is different. I don't know what I was doing.

[00:47:11] Taylor: You were good at it, apparently.

[00:47:13] Tori: Oh my gosh. It's just, I think it's just the story. It is the story that draws people in. I think it's 60% of the score was interview, and so I got to share my story and I know when they saw me walking on stage, they thought that I was like a giraffe on stilts. Like I did not know. I was like it was bad. And I even had a coach and I still didn't - You're supposed to walk a certain way and my dress didn't even fit because I borrowed it because I couldn't afford like an actual pageant dress. So it is, it was different.

[00:47:47] My husband and I were fostering a sibling group of three at the time. We have two child, we also have two biological children. We're in the process of adopting our adult son. And people are like, "wow, that's amazing." And I was like, no. It was the stupidest thing I've ever done. It was such a bad idea. We didn't have the capacity for it. We failed that sibling group of three for sure.

[00:48:08] Like it was really hard. And I was just like, I was in my mom bun every day, mom's sweatpants, and I was just like I was like, dying. Oh, okay so by the way the kids, it was five kits, three and under, and so we were like changing diapers every two seconds. It was just, it was bad. It was all bad.

[00:48:28] Anyway, don't do that anybody. Anyway, the opportunity of pageantry came on the table and I was like that sounds fun. That's literally what I was like, that sounds really different than what I'm doing now. Let's maybe do that. And so I signed up for it and I competed and I got a coach. And apparently I won the pageant, which was great and cool.

[00:48:58] It was really fun. And it was also a season where I was listening to this podcast. And the guy talked about how he had always worked for God, like he was working for God and he felt like God had called him to enjoy him. And I was just like, I was very challenged. I was like, I don't know if I know how to enjoy God.

[00:49:17] Like my whole thing has been like live life for the glory of God, like love people well, so that they know God and I was like, I don't know if I really know how to enjoy him. And it was just a time where I was like feeling very burnt out. So I was like, okay, God, how do I enjoy you? And when the opportunity of pageantry kind of came on the scene, I was like, that honestly sounds fun.

[00:49:39] Like I think maybe I could enjoy God in this. And I did. Like it was really fun. And I'm not like, I don't look cute now. But I also think that it taught me - it was, these are the things that I think God does that we could not even put in a box. I was starting to, so I started speaking, communicating before Miss Universe. And I feel like in this pageant world, God helped me figure out like I didn't know how to really do my makeup, didn't know how to do my hair, and I didn't know how to dress. And I know that sounds so silly, but as I've come into this sphere of communicating, it actually is important.

[00:50:27] Taylor: How do you define enjoying God now?

[00:50:31] Tori: I think I'm still trying to figure that out. I do think that I have a tendency, like I'm like, I will rest in heaven like I am working for, I'm living life for the glory of God. Like I wanna live on this earth like, like I only got one life and he has given me so much to who much is given much is required.

[00:50:51] I just wanna live for the Lord and I know though that can cause burnout so quickly, and there have been pieces like times in my life where I'm just like, I don't know if I can go on any longer because I've run myself into the ground. And so I think enjoying God, right now, it's being with my family. It's going on nature walks with my kids and discovering different plants through this app that we use that tells us what plants they are.

[00:51:26] It's taking the time to read to my children and probably drinking wine with my husband at night watching our favorite television shows and talking about our favorite books.

[00:51:38] Taylor: Tori, thank you for coming on the podcast. I appreciate you. Everybody should go check out - her TED Talk is called Supporting Foster Youth and her new book is Fostered: One Woman's Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family through Foster Care. I'm very excited about it. It just came out, but you can get it. We're gonna link to it on Amazon below on the show notes for this episode.

[00:52:02] Tori: Thank you.

[00:52:03] Taylor: Thanks, Tori.

[00:52:05] And as always, if you wanna support this podcast, you can subscribe here or you can check us out on YouTube or Spotify, or if you want to monetarily support us, you can go and download our mobile app, Hope Mindfulness & Prayer, which is available in the Google and Apple app stores. You should go get it. It's awesome.

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According to your Purpose

According to your Purpose is a podcast for seekers who desire to live a life of intention. We search out and find the most creative and innovative voices bringing God’s truth to light, in a meaningful and honest way, and bring them to you! Whether it is a creative venture, scientific discovery, physical fitness, mental health, personal growth, or stories of purpose, commitment, connection, or truth, we are fascinated by it all and we want to share that knowledge with you!

ATYP is hosted by Taylor McMahon and produced by Hope Mindfulness and Prayer, the Christian wellness mobile app

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