Tori Hope Petersen is a writer, speaker and the founder of The Beloved Institute, an organization that serves vulnerable individuals and communities who have experienced abuse and oppression. Petersen, a former foster care youth, uses her platform to advocate for foster care reform and to provide avenues for youth in the system to advocate for themselves. She is the author of “Fostered: One Woman’s Powerful Story of Finding Faith and Family through Foster Care.” Petersen is a graduate of Hillsdale College.
I looked Craig straight in the eyes and said, “You’re not my dad.” Then he cried and refused to speak to me for hours. To be fair, if he had spoken to me, I would have refused to speak to him. I’m not sure why we were arguing. But I remember intentionally hiding away and not wanting to be found.
When he addressed the issue, he told me he’d never heard those words, even from Asher, though he was Craig’s stepson. From foster youth, these words are common. Looking back, I realize these words were probably difficult for him to hear because he desperately wanted to be a biological father, or any kind of father, really. He wanted to attach himself to me, because he wanted to be a father in every way, including me perceiving him as my dad.
But parents can’t go into foster care to fulfill what is broken and lost in themselves, because in foster care the variable foster parents have the least amount of control over is the foster youth, whose trauma has likely left them feeling broken and lost.
Foster care is a place of such redemption for so many. Abandoned children, barren couples (and fruitful ones too, sometimes), and a broken system come together to reflect God’s adoption of his children and an Abba, Daddy-like, fatherly love we all seek from the time we are born.
But we cannot go into foster care seeking full-fledged healing — as children, as parents, or advocates wanting to redeem our stories. The only factor that will truly and fully heal us from the inside out is believing that God is our Abba — our Daddy, who takes care of us, protects us, and loves us as we are.
I usually recommend to infertile couples that if they get involved in foster care because they want babies, they should prepare themselves for older children. Many times, infertile couples who wish to adopt through foster care say yes to placements who are older, hopeful it will work out. Though intentions are sweet, many of them are unprepared for teenage behaviors or reunification, though reunification with the biological family is a large part of the foster care system.
Children aren’t products we get to choose for our own convenience. Rather, children are gifts to foster parents to refine their already God-given gifts. The purpose of foster care is not cheap adoption. The purpose of foster care is to make families whole, and while sometimes that happens through adoption, other times it happens through reunification. And many times, it’s not with a newborn. If you’re going into foster care to fill your own picture-perfect hopes and dreams, you’re going into foster care for the wrong reasons. Foster care is solely to fulfill the needs of the most vulnerable families and children in our nation.
Now, many families do go into foster care and adoption to fulfill their own wants, but because God is so kind to us, he aligns our hearts with his. Foster care and adoption can be entered into for selfish reasons, but what a reason for grace to abound all the more. Truly, this is foster care. God restores families broken apart through reunification. God brings multiple families together to help raise children in foster care.
God makes families whole and offers his children a home through adoption.
Reunification is not always the best option, nor is adoption always the best option. The foster care community knows, possibly more than anyone else, that two different feelings and ideas, like joy and sorrow, or gain and loss, can live in the same place. We know tension all too well, so we must not paint adoption or reunification as always good or bad. Restoring families is not black-and-white. It’s a beautiful masterpiece of colors unnamed and newly discovered.
Many times I’ve held the knowledge of God’s love in one hand and the idea that earthly means can heal me in my other hand. In my right hand I hold tight onto the truth that God loves, and in my left hand I hold just as tight onto the lie that I am not enough as I am. But here’s the truth for all of those who feel that way.
We are all enough. You are enough when you face infertility. You are enough when that adoption falls through. You are enough when the beautiful life you’ve imagined looks uglier than you’ve ever seen. You are enough when you react to your triggers.
You are enough when you aren’t adopted on earth. You are enough because you are adopted in heaven. You are enough because God is enough, and through his Spirit, he makes you enough. You are enough not because of anything you’ve done or anything you’ll ever do. You’re enough because God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, to declare that his enough-ness can make it so that you are enough.
Tori Hope Petersen grew up in the foster care system, a biracial child in a confusing and volatile world. Growing up with a mentally ill mother and living in 12 different foster homes, nothing was in her favor. And yet, she found faith and family through foster care. This article has been excerpted and adapted from Fostered © 2022 by Tori Hope Petersen and is used with permission of B&H Publishing. Order at Lifeway.com.