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The Father She Yearned for Was Already There

Tori Petersen grew up in the foster care system where she absorbed a message that she was worthless. Although the rules were strict, she was allowed to go to church which gave some relief from a sterile group-home environment. She writes:

The pastor’s messages about forgiveness gave me the first stirrings of hope I could remember. I even asked Jesus into my heart, though I didn’t understand what that entailed. I only went up to the altar because I thought that I’d find relief from the pain of foster care and the continual sense of feeling unwanted.

As she moved through a succession of foster homes, her heart grew increasingly callous toward God and other people. Her peers would poke fun at her, saying she had “daddy issues.” At the time, Tori “believed having a father would solve lots of my problems. Perhaps someone would have been there to love me. If God was so good, I couldn’t help wondering, then why hadn’t he granted me a father?”

During many lunch periods, she enjoyed secluding herself in the English teacher’s classroom. For one of her art classes, she received permission to paint a mural on his wall. While she painted, they talked. He never shied away from a good debate or hard questions.

Tori said, “One day he asked if I believed in God. I replied that I didn’t. From my perspective, it seemed like people claimed belief in God due to social consensus more than any genuine faith.” I asked, “If most people in society didn’t believe in God, would people still believe in God?”

He paused for a long time, and then responded, “I don’t know.” She appreciated his candor, which was rare among the Christians she had known. Instead of telling her what (and how) to believe, he admitted he didn’t have all the answers.

My teacher’s honest admission of uncertainty encouraged me to start asking more questions, because deep in my heart I was searching for the Father I’d always yearned for. My heart was so drawn to the character of Jesus that I posted a YouTube video asking people to forgive me for being a mean and angry person.

Around the same time, a youth leader she’d barely seen since junior high reentered her life. She began asking her and her foster mom questions about God, which they answered patiently and kindly. Tori said, “The one question I couldn’t shake revolved around innocent children: If God is so good, then why do they suffer? All they could answer was, ‘I don’t know.’”

I didn’t know either. But I did know that when I looked at Scripture, I saw a God who didn’t shy away from pain but embraced it so that others would know love. And when I looked at the lives of those who most reminded me of Jesus, I could see how they had sacrificed on my behalf. I didn’t want to waste their suffering, or my own, but I wanted to receive it all as a gift—as a call to love others as they had loved me.

My salvation did not happen in a single grand moment, but through small miracles that gradually chipped away at the scales of skepticism. I saw God more clearly the more time I spent around people who pursued godliness, who told me who I was in Christ despite what I’d done and what had been done to me.

In the end, the father I’d always wanted turned out to be the Father who was always there, the Father who revealed himself to me in his own perfect timing.

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