5 Amazing Prayer Hacks

God is amazing!

Prayer is powerful!

If both of these statements are true, why have I felt so powerless when it comes to prayer?

Sometimes I get overwhelmed with the number of suffering people I want to pray for. There world is a mess! My friend’s husband just had surgery and is struggling in his recovery. Another friend is preparing for the funeral of a 7 month old baby. Washing machines are braking. Cars stop working. Cancer abounds.

It’s all so much. Too much, really.

Years ago, I realized something that absolutely transformed the way I look at prayer and praying: God’s not overwhelmed! He already knows it all. He’ll tell me what he wants me to pray for, and I don’t have to worry! Think about it: God wants us to pray, and he’ll remind us who to pray for. We hardly have to do anything. He’ll do it all.

This was the best news ever! I don’t have to try to think of all the people who need prayer. I just have to ask God to remind me.

Here are 5 prayer hacks that have transformed my prayer life:

1. God already knows. I don’t have to think it up. I just need to ask him to tell me what he’d like me to pray for. Once I quit trying to think of all the things, I actually had time to pray. Now I can ask God who he’d like me to pray for, or what situations he’d like me to pray about. I ask God to help me think the way he thinks, to care about the things he cares about. I can’t pray for everything, but I can pray for the things he wants me to pray for.

2. God will tell me. When a name or situation pops into my head, I pray for them. I may not know why I’m praying, but I know I’m thinking about them because God caused me to. I might get a text from a friend, an email from someone I’ve never met, a phone call from a family member. Because I’ve already asked God to help me know who to pray for, when this happens, I know I’m supposed to pray for these people. It’s not rocket science, unless a rocket scientist texts me! I’ve stopped telling people I’ll pray for them later. If they need prayer, I just pray right then. Why wait and possibly forget?

3. God cares. He loves me more than I have been able to understand. He loves those I love more than I ever will. He knows what’s best, even when horrible things are happening. He sees how it will all work out. Nothing is a surprise to him. He wants me to pray. He wants you to pray. It’s how we connect. Sometimes it’s hard to think about praying to God when we can’t see or feel him. Is he even there? Is he listening? Does he care? Even in the middle of my fear and doubt, God will help my brain think of things to pray for, and I’m reminded that he cares.

4. God understands. I don’t need to speak to him in Elizabethan English, or Greek, or Hebrew. I can speak to him like I would any other person, because he is a person. Even when I don’t know the words to say, he understands what my heart means. Sometimes, I just say the name of a person and say, “I don’t even know what to ask, but please help them.” When it’s just too painful, I may just say, “Oh Jesus, help!”

5. God works. He’s not a genie, and prayer doesn’t “work” because we do it often, or do it right. Prayer works because God is good. He may not answer our prayers the way we want, and that can be frustrating. When I began realizing that prayer is about building a relationship with God, I became a bit more patient when things didn’t go how I thought they should. Often, with a little more time, things actually worked out better than they would have if they went how I thought they should. Even through some very difficult times, I’ve found my relationship with God to be close, and that gets me through.

As I was typing this blog, my husband came home frantically looking for the headphones I gave him for his birthday last week. He’s going on a business trip, and wanted to use them on the plane. He raced all over the house and we talked about where he last had them. I put my hands on his shoulders and said, “God please help us find the headphones. Bob’s in a hurry, and wants to use these today. They were a blessing, and they cost a lot of money. Please help us find them.” He walked into the garage and there they were!

It doesn’t always happen like this, but sometimes it does.

What has helped you as you pray? Please leave a comment.

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.

5 Ways To Survive Suffering Without It Killing You

This is a crazy world we live in (I missed a letter, so I first typed, “This is a ‘cray’ world.” Either fits).

It seems we humans will go to extreme lengths to avoid, deny, or postpone suffering.

I certainly don’t look forward to it. I continue eating poorly, because I don’t want to deal with having to cook different foods. Not exactly suffering, but it shows how far we’ll go to avoid even an inconvenience.

If it’s this hard to do things that will make our lives better, what happens when we find ourselves in a place of true suffering? What’s a human to do?

  1. Suffering is part of life. I know, it stinks. I wish it weren’t this way, but I’m not God (thank God). I remember going through really tough times. I didn’t know how to handle it. How do I make it stop? All I could think about was how much it hurt, and what I could do to change it. It seemed so unfair. I failed to grasp that suffering is part of life. We all suffer at some point. It’s part of being human. Once I came to recognize that I was in fact suffering, and that it was a normal part of life, I relaxed a bit. I still didn’t like it, but I stopped fighting as much. That’s the way it is with so many non-happy things: Once we realize it’s normal, we stop the fight and begin the healing.
  2. Suffering is painful. It hurts. Sometimes the pain is physical, like when we are recovering from surgery, or going through chemotherapy. Sometimes the pain is emotional, like when the person we love doesn’t love us, or they die. Many times, it’s both.
  3. Suffering can be destructive. Sometimes we are the victim. Nothing we could have or should have done could prevent it. A person with evil intent harmed us. We were involved in an accident. When this occurs, we need to find safe people to help us regain our physical, emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual health. It hurts, it’s not fair, and it’s up to us to put our lives back together again.
  4. Suffering can be therapeutic. Sometimes things happen to us because we haven’t dealt with our stuff. We have a temper, and we get fired. We don’t trust people, so our spouse leaves. We deny financial reality, and lose our home. The positive from this type of suffering is that we have the power to change it! If we deal with our stuff, the pain will stop.
  5. Suffering is purposeful. Romans 5:3-5 says, “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” When you’re in the middle of suffering, this doesn’t feel very comforting! After coming through, however, I can say that it’s true. When the suffering is over, we realize we’ve persevered. Now we can handle more than we could before. We are stronger. As we grow, we realize our character is being stretched. Maybe we have more compassion. Maybe we’re more honest. Maybe we can recognize manipulators more easily. Whatever the case, if we let it, suffering can make us better people. Because of this, we can hope again. 

What do you think? Tell me about your experience in the comments below.

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.



Colorado Life Coach: Talking About The Difficult

Why don’t we like to talk about difficult things?

I’m from Colorado, so you know it’s alway safe to talk about the weather (if you don’t like it wait five minutes and it will change), or the Broncos (how do they continue to play poorly, but still win?).

I’m OK with safe topics; I like the weather and the Broncos just as much as any Colorado resident, but I want to go deeper. I want to talk about things that really matter.

What about you?

It seems that some people enjoy going deep. Others like to go deep, as long as they’re comfortable with the topic. Some people avoid difficult topics like the plague!

Why is that?

I think sometimes people don’t like to talk about difficult things because they are afraid. Maybe they think they can control their lives if they don’t deal with hard topics: death, divorce, victimization, abuse, neglect, addiction, mental illness.

Maybe it feels uncomfortable to sit or talk with someone who’s suffering. Is it because we might have to deal with our own fears, denial, issues around the topic, if we allow our friend to go there?

I think it might be easier to believe our friend or family member brought the trouble on themselves, than to believe that bad things sometimes happen to good people.

~Kids: If you see children misbehaving, it’s easier to blame the parents, than to admit some children behave poorly, even if they are parented well.

~Sickness: It’s easier to blame the person’s diet, lack of exercise, etc. than to accept that cancer is a part of life.

~Sexual assault: It’s easier to blame the victim (can you believe what she’s wearing?) than to understand that one in three women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.

There are certainly times when our own character comes into play when bad things happen to us! If our children act poorly because we don’t discipline, that’s on us. If we get sick because we don’t take care of ourselves and we eat until we’re obese, that’s on us. If we are sexually assaulted because…no, there’s no situation that makes us take responsibility for this one.

But see what happens here? If we can figure out what happened to the other person, and make sure we don’t do it, then we don’t have to be afraid.

In other words, we don’t have to believe bad things happen to good people. We can blame the people and say it’s their fault.

But here’s the problem, we do live in a world where bad things happen to good people. We can certainly be wise, and live in ways to diminish our risks, but bad things still happen.

Some people’s children have learning or mental health issues totally unrelated to their parenting. In fact, some of the most amazing parents I know have children who began their lives in trauma. This early trauma (abuse, neglect, addiction, poverty) was not brought on by these parents, but their children act out a lot. Whether adoptive, foster, step or biological, some parents struggle against things that have nothing to do with their ability to parent well. It would be easier to blame them, because then we don’t have to think about things such as neglect and abuse.

It’s easy to say, “What a shame,” about the friend who’s been married for 30 years and is getting divorced. We could judge her for not being able to hold it together after her children left. I remember thinking this way years ago. I understand now that I may have no idea what she’s lived with, and what the intimate side of this marriage has done in her life. We don’t want to believe it can happen to us.

We victim blame when it comes to sexual violation. “What was she doing in that part of town?” “What did she think was going to happen?” Each of these statements or thoughts makes us feel that if we don’t do what she did, it won’t happen to us.

We can certainly take good care of ourselves, and take precautions, but blaming others doesn’t protect ourselves.

I’m wondering if this is why we don’t like talking about difficult things. Do we think we’re protecting ourselves? Of course we’re not actually able to control everything or everyone in the world. That’s the problem. If it were up to us, nothing bad would ever happen.

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.

Colorado Life Coach: Graduating To New Adoption

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I spoke at the graduation of some adopted children whose trauma has impacted their ability to receive love. These kids came from foreign countries to loving parents. They all suffer from reactive attachment disorder (RAD), which among other things, causes them to fight anyone who tries to get close to them.

This was a heartbreaking, beautiful, holy celebration. This was the end of 9 weeks of art, music and emotional therapy. The families who have been raising these children have been so worn out and traumatized by the controlling behaviors of the children, that they needed to ask for someone else to step in and help raise the children through to adulthood.

Picture the scene:

10 children from the school.

Parents who are relinquishing their child to another family.

New adoptive families with lots of training, taking the children home to be part of their family.

Family, friends, and supporters of the school.

Children’s artwork representing their hard emotional work.

Professional artwork of Rocky Matranga, sold to help families afford the school program.

The ceremony began with children playing their ukuleles, singing and dancing. Some children chose silly songs, but most selected deep, meaningful songs, or wrote their own to express their feelings of wanting to be loved, but struggling to accept it.

Tears flowed all around as one little girl cried, knowing she couldn’t return home due to her behavior and threats, but having the opportunity to begin again with a new family.

Rocky asked me to speak for the graduation. What an honor! What a challenge! All of these people, with their own emotions were in the same room at the same time.

I’ve spoken to all sorts of people, but this group was different.

These children’s lives started in trauma. Their brains didn’t wire correctly. They push away what most of us crave. They are beginning to understand this, and they want to change. Some of them have hurt their families or pets physically. Some have acted out sexually. Some have used emotional manipulation. Most know they have done hurtful things, and are starting to understand why. They are trying to take ownership of their traumatic start, as well as how it played out in their families. After the ceremony, one girl almost blamed her family for needing to find a new family to care for her, then she said, “I understand that my behaviors caused my family to need to seek a new home for me.” So horribly heartbreaking, but so wonderfully healing. I said, “Way to go. If you can keep taking responsibility (not for your trauma, but for your actions) you will go far. You’re healing. Keep going. You have a new chance with a new family.”

The relinquishing families brought a child into their families with their eyes open. They knew their child came from a difficult place filled with trauma. And yet, no one could have prepared them for the day-in, day-out struggles familiar only to those parenting traumatized children. If these parents had any unresolved issues in their own lives or marriage, the children would uncover them, and use them to destroy the parents. It’s something others just cannot understand, unless they’ve lived it. I have lived it. It’s hard for me to even remember sometimes, because of the trauma I experienced through this journey. As I walked into the room filled with attachment disordered children, however, I remembered. I remembered the anxiety oozing through the room. I remembered the panic, chaos, desperation, deception, charm, and inability to breath freely. When you don’t live with this, you absolutely cannot understand. When you’re not in it daily, you forget. I remembered as I participated in this graduation.

The new families sat nervously, knowing other amazing families had already given this child their best, for many years, and now it was their turn. Would they have what it took? Would they be able to make a difference? Would their training be enough? Would their family make it through this adventure?

This blog has taken me 10 days to complete. I have kept coming back to it, trying to figure out how to write what I experienced, while holding each of these groups of people (the children, relinquishing families, and new families) in my heart. I want so desperately to be able to convey what happened in that room with respect and dignity. I hope and pray that my words will be taken with the heart with which they were written.

These children are brave over-comers. There is hope for them. They are, and have been loved. I told them at the graduation that on behalf of humans everywhere, “I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. No child should have to live through abuse, neglect, trauma, and abandonment.” I continue to pray they will be able to accept love, and have lives filled with true relationships.

These relinquishing families are devastated. Their hopes and dreams for their families, children, marriage, and future have been dashed. Most likely, they are financially, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and psychologically depleted. If you know a family like this, please understand: they’ve beat themselves up far more than you ever could. Please offer them kindness and compassion. Understand they’ve lost a child, and they are grieving. Bring a meal. Send a card. Notice their pain, without blame.

These new families need help and support. If you know an adoptive family, especially those adopting older children, please offer to help. If you have any experience with attachment issues, offer to babysit. Make sure you do it without falling into the trap of triangulation. Bring a meal. Offer to drive to activities. Ask how it’s going, and believe what you hear, even if it sounds crazy. Support this family for the long-term.

Thank you so much for reading this post. It was hard to write, and I know it may be hard to read. Thank you for taking the time.

This post written by Carrie O’Toole, M.A.



Colorado Life Coach: I’m the MOB

Mother of the Bride.

That’s me! For this brief period of time, I am the MOB!

Katie, my only daughter, got engaged the day after Thanksgiving. I’ve heard so many women my age lament how quickly time seems to pass. I so relate! How could my daughter’s wedding be taking place in just 10 short days? How did my little girl grow up so fast?

Enough about me. I’ve learned some things through this time of preparation.

~There’s never a better time to work on things than the present. If you wait for perfect timing to lose weight, deal with a troubling relationship, heal past hurts, move forward with a new career or hobby, there will never be a perfect time. Life just keeps moving. Sometimes we have too many things going on to take on anything new. Other times, we wait for timing to get better before we move forward. I’ve learned that even if we start slowly, it’s best to at least start. I’m so thankful I didn’t wait for my daughter to get engaged to work on my health. I started that several years ago, so now I feel great as MOB. I’m thankful I didn’t wait to work on my marriage and family issues. We had already begun, so when the engagement occurred, we handled it well and could be happy and focused on my daughter. I’m thankful that I’ve worked on my relationship with God. I can trust him and believe he loves my daughter even more than I do.

~Fear leads to controlling behaviors, and it’s ugly. I read books on how to plan a wedding, and found the biggest problems between moms and daughters occur when the MOB tries to control every detail of the wedding. I wanted to be a great MOB, and I truly want my daughter to feel loved, beautiful, and special for her wedding. For this to happen, I needed to make sure to process my fears apart from my daughter. If I have fears that I haven’t dealt with, they will come out: in snotty or cutting comments, in passive aggressive humor, by pushing for my ideas over those of my daughter’s. Some of the best advice I read while preparing reminded me that this is my daughter’s wedding, not mine. If I want to have a great relationship through the wedding planning, and in the years after, I need to remember that through each activity.

~The big day will be over quickly. Enjoy each planning activity. I’ve worked hard to be present for each phase of the planning. When we went to taste cakes, we tasted, laughed, and enjoyed each moment. Same with the flowers, caterers, and hair appointments. Each day is clear in my memory. It’s not just about the wedding. It’s about each experience leading up to the day. I’ve tried to pay attention to smells, expressions, sounds, and touches. Mindfulness is key to being present.

~Plan for the short-term, but even more for the big picture. The wedding day is so special, but will be over in an instant. The marriage will continue. It takes a higher level of thinking to be able to plan both at the same time. I’ve been so impressed with Katie and Joey (her fiancé), as I’ve watched them work with their counselor to plan for marriage. They’ve learned how to express their feelings, wants, and needs to each other. They’ve learned to disagree respectfully. They’ve talked through issues that could cause them struggles in the future. What a great lesson for all of us!

~There’s usually a let down after a big event, so plan accordingly. Another MOB warned me to plan something relaxing for myself after the wedding. She and her husband experienced huge let down after their son’s wedding and found themselves weeping at work. We were able to plan a vacation a few days after the wedding. It may not prevent the tears, but I won’t be at work when they flow!

I’m so excited for my daughter. I’m so thankful for the growth I’ve experienced over the last few years that has enabled me to experience this precious time with her. I love you so much, Katie! Here’s to your new life with Joey!

This post written by Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.

Contact Carrie O’Toole to schedule a confidential telephone call or appointment for coaching.