God bless the broken road
BOOKS | A frank look at the foster care system
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Years ago, I participated in a women’s Bible study that explored the account of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego surviving the trial of a fiery furnace, and “they didn’t even smell of smoke!” (Daniel 3:27).
Few people can share their personal trauma stories without sensationalizing the details—dwelling in the bitterness, “smelling of smoke.” In her recently released memoir Fostered (B&H Books, 2022), Tori Hope Petersen manages to do just that. Fostered chronicles Petersen’s journey through foster care, a broken system full of broken people. Conceived out of rape, she describes an upbringing full of abusive valleys and hopeful peaks with a mother who “wrapped up anxiety like it was a present to keep me safe.”
Written in chronological order, each chapter represents a stage of her journey as she moves in and out of foster care. Like a yo-yo on a string, Petersen’s life bounces up and down at the whim of adults entrusted with her care. Each phase brings new challenges and a new hierarchy to navigate. As caseworkers shuffle her between single-parent, two-parent, and group homes, Petersen ponders whether “the best interests of the child” are actually considered. Homes attractive on paper looked very different from the inside.
Petersen’s quest for love, acceptance, and security are palpable—as is her disappointment with each failed placement and each rejection. Yet interspersed between the disappointments, glimmers of hope shine through as God draws her to Himself through a series of people who truly care for her. Petersen doesn’t seek to assign blame but instead offers readers a frank look at the foster care system and the challenges faced by those who run it, the parents who foster, and the children who must not only carry the weight of their own trauma but also that of the adults around them.
Recognizing that the system provides many abandoned children a chance at redemption, she shares, “We cannot go into foster care seeking full-fledged healing—as children, as parents, or advocates wanting to redeem our stories.” Petersen finds that true healing “from the inside out” comes from Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
Those who have experienced the foster care system firsthand will find empathy and comfort in her words, perhaps seeing pieces of their own stories. For others with just a passing awareness of foster care, Fostered offers a message that must not be overlooked.
Caution: Accounts of violence, abuse, nonexplicit sex, and drug use.
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