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.

Colorado Life Coach: Moms of Disruption/Relinquishment Retreat


For several years, I thought I was the only one.

I had never heard of an adoptive mom who let her child go, for their own good, and the good of her family. I truly believed I was the only one. I felt alone, ashamed, guilty, grieved, hollowed out, dirty, cast-out. I felt undeserving of forgiveness and love.

What kind of a mother does this?

As I’ve healed and continued to seek answers, I’ve discovered there are many moms like me! I am most certainly not the only one!

I’ve met moms who have had to let their child(ren) go:

~For their own safety

~For the safety of other children or pets

~For their sanity

~For their marriage

~Because the child would never make it in their family, but they might make it elsewhere.

These are regular moms, like you and me.

They love children. In fact, they love children so much, they adopted a child, or a sibling group. They went through hours of training. They read books on parenting, adoption, attachment, and trauma. They prepared (or so they thought). They spent tons of money, worked the system, some of them traveled to other countries, and worked so hard to bring a total stranger into their home. They tried to become a family.

When it didn’t work, they were devastated.

Before this happened to us, we never would have imagined being one of “those” moms. We’ve all become members of a club none of us wanted to join.

We are the moms of adoption disruption, dissolution, or relinquishment.

And we hurt.


Over the last several days, 8 of these suffering mamas met with me in Breckenridge, Colorado. We came together Sunday evening to meet each other and share some wine and cheese.


They were nervous. Some of them said their husbands gently forced them to come! They all had different stories, but similar endings. Each believed they were the only one. Each believed they were bad people. Each had been judged, misunderstood, accused, and held accountable. None had received grace, validation, compassion, or help with their grief.

We worked on tough stuff.


Fear, Anger, Sadness, Depression, Guilt, Shame, Isolation, Loneliness, Bitterness, Resentment, Denial, Protesting, Hurt, Grief, Letting Go.

At the end, I asked them how the retreat impacted them. Here are their words:

“Cathartic-being in the presence of other women who have been through the same thing.”

“Able to let go of the anger, and dreams that will never be.”

“Healing, tools, advice, answers, support, hugs, kinship, clarity, self-compassion.”

“I made myself feel.”

“I have the ability to work through tough stuff.”

“Helped me get closure.”

“Validating, healing, emotional strength.”

“I forgave myself.”

“Hearing others’ stories helped me know it will be OK. I’ll be OK.”

“I did a lot of grief work, and I needed that.”

“This was huge!”


They left knowing better how to continue to heal. They want to grow. They want this to matter. They desire for their pain to have purpose. They want to live again. They want their families back. They want their children to succeed in life. They want to be whole and healthy again.

One mom shared this analogy: We are all running a relay race. For some of our children, we carried the baton for as long as we could. Then we passed the baton to someone else.


relay race

We won’t be the ones to see them cross the finish line, but we ran our part of the race. We did the best we could, and we’re so thankful for the others who stepped in to help our children finish well.

It’s not how we dreamed it would be, but as we accept reality, we can dream again.

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


Colorado Life Coach: This Sucks

IMG_2120My son and I are finishing up our first documentary film!

It’s been an interesting process, for sure.

Brendan has done all the filming, editing, lights, sound, and cinematography. He’s the creative one. He has a vision for the finished project before we start.

I remember taking Home Economics in Junior High School. You can tell my age by the fact that Home Ec. was a class, and by the fact that I attended a Junior High School, not a Middle School! During the sewing lessons, I could never see how the material I picked would look, once it was made into the pattern I was supposed to use. I’d hold it up, and lay the fabric around my body, trying to imagine what it would look like. I just couldn’t see it that way. I was usually surprised by the finished project (and not always in the good way).

This is sort of how it is with film-making for me. Brendan has a vision that he describes to me. I try to see it in my mind, but usually I’m totally off in how it actually turns out. What’s cool is, I’m usually surprised for the better! I’m truly amazed what he can do with the interviews we shoot.

IMG_1725I used to think film-making was glamorous. I’ve learned the truth! It’s long, sometimes boring, and depending on the topic, it’s emotionally draining.

The film we’re finishing tells the story of three families who adopted using the same adoption agency, from the same orphanage, at the same time, and all three children lived in the same room. Fourteen years later, all three of the children are living in other homes. It’s a tragic, but interesting story! How could this happen? What’s going on here?

The story screamed to be told. We needed to tell it. We needed to show it. We’ve lived it, and were amazed that there were (at least) 2 other families with the same story. We thought we were alone in this horrendous journey. They did as well.

This has been difficult!

~We had to tell our story again and again

~We listened to the heartbreaking story of these other families again and again

~Brendan had to watch and listen hundreds of times to be able to edit it together in a meaningful, yet interesting way

~Our story is traumatic, and it causes some Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms sometimes

~Brendan and I don’t always have the same vision for how we want the final product to look

We’re so close to being finished, and both of us are tired of the project.

Have you ever worked on something that you knew was important, you had passion for it, you wanted to do it, and it was horribly difficult to finish?

Me too.

This is how I felt as I was finishing my book last year at this time.

So we set it aside for a time. We come back to it with fresh eyes and ears, and a settled soul. We’ll get it done.

Just not today.

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

Title Credit: Brendan O’Toole


Colorado Life Coach: Waiting For…

IMG_1961Do you ever wait to do things until something else happens?

I find myself waiting to write a blog until I feel better, or until I have something more positive to say.

Sometimes I wait a long time.

I’ve been in that place for awhile now. It’s not that everything is horrible, it’s not. There are just several things I’ve been working on, and waiting for, and they’re not where I want them to be yet. So I wait.

How about you?

~Do you ever stay quiet waiting for something good to happen?

~Do you stop posting on Facebook because you don’t have anything good to say?

~Are you jealous of other people’s “happy families?”

~Do others seem to have it easier than you?

~Do you wonder why life is so hard?

~Is it difficult to move on when things are unfinished?

Me too!

Maybe this is “normal,” whatever that is!

I just know I’d rather write about positive things. I’d rather sound like I know what I’m doing, and have something brilliant to offer to others. I’d rather look like I’ve “arrived” through the tough circumstances. I’d rather feel like the expert who knows how to help others get through their tough spots. I’d rather not suffer anymore.

Sometimes I get discouraged by people who seem to have life figured out. Do you know who I’m talking about? They’re the one’s who encourage us to “take life by the horns,” “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps,” “When the going gets tough, the tough get going,” “Nothing’s going to stop me now” people.

When things are going along smoothly, I can get that way. I want to encourage others to not give up, that I’ve been there and they can do it too.

Other times, I’m down in the muck, like most other people.

It’s not too encouraging. But it’s real.

I’d rather be real, than a great example who’s faking it.

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

Colorado Life Coach: Dear Church

pic of churchPhoto credit Keeva999 from flikr

Dear church,

I know you mean well. I believe you want to help people find a saving relationship with Jesus, and that goal is part of your mission to exist. Most of your members have good hearts (the new regenerated ones, anyway), and truly think they are doing God’s work.

Here’s a problem that bothers me a lot. In fact, I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk to you about this for a few years. I’m asking you to bear with me, even if you disagree. Hear me out, please. There are people depending on you!!

Many people in your congregations (or formerly in your buildings) have been hurt very badly. In fact, many have actually been traumatized. This could have been before they met you, maybe in their early childhood, in another country, by their parents, by a spouse, by a stranger, by a broken system, by their family, or maybe even by you. This trauma has caused them to be broken, scared, and scarred.

Victims of abuse, neglect, accidents, disasters, prolonged illness, addicted parents, mental illness, violence, etc. struggle with trust. They may have heard that you have some answers. They came to you desperate for help and hope.

Then you brought up their sin.

Over and over you told them that is the issue keeping them from Jesus. What you are missing, is that for many people, this doesn’t compute. You see, they may have been so damaged by OTHER PEOPLE’S SIN, that they can’t see their own… yet. They need to be held, bandaged, and cared for, not preached at.

~Do you see it?

~Have you wondered why some people come once or twice, but don’t return?

~What type of training does your prayer team have? Do they point out the person’s sin, ask them to memorize more scripture, or somehow blame them for the troubles in their life?

~Where do you send them when they come to you broken?

~Have you thought about whether you chase people away from Jesus?

I was a bible study leader at a large church, along with a friend of mine. I remember vividly sitting at a coffee shop with her after our groups one day (we taught different studies). She literally pounded on the table in anger about the “sin” in the world, how people were messing up their lives, and how it grieved God. As she worked herself into a tizzy, I asked if she ever wondered what happened to those people to cause them to sin.

What little girl grows up thinking, “I’d really like to sleep around and jump from man to man, never being able to sustain a healthy relationship. That’s my dream!”

What boy thinks, “I hope to grow up to be addicted to pornography, so it distorts my view of sex, and causes me to see my wife as an object instead of a beautiful woman.”

My good friend and former counselor, Mary Ellen Mann was my guest on a podcast last year. She asked pastors to stop using the word sin in sermons, because it causes people who have been sexually abused feel shamed. 1 in 4 girls will experience sexual violation before they turn 18. 1 in 3 women will be violated during their lifetime. Pastors and youth pastors consistently teach, “God loves you. You’re a sinner.” Do you know what these women hear? “You’re a sinner.” Instead of helping them find the hope they desperately need, they feel shamed. They hear:

I can’t satisfy God.

God is not pleased with me.

I disappoint God.

I am bad.

I am part of the problem.

What did Jesus do? He attached first. He took care of us first. Then after a year or so, he could say, “if you get rid of your sin, you could feel my love more.”

He didn’t poke people right in the middle of their shame. He overwhelmed them with his mercy and grace.

Dear Church,

What if our message became, “God will go to the ends of the earth to find you.” “Someone has to pay for the sin of humanity, and that someone is Jesus.” “God adores you.”

What if you listened to people’s stories and truly heard their hurt?

What if you validated that what happened to them was horrific and they didn’t deserve it?

What if you didn’t blame them, or point out their sin?

What if you just cared for them, until they were healed and healthy enough to hear what you have to say?

One last question, Dear Church,

Could you shift the dynamic from the problem of sin, to one of God searching for you?

Maybe it’s just me, but I believe you’d have to add more services if that was your message!

This post written with love for the church by, Colorado Life Coach, Carrie O’Toole, M.A.

If you’ve been hurt and would like a coach to help you find healing, click here.



Colorado Life Coach: Going Through Grief


photo courtesy Flikr

I love the ocean.

Wave after wave.

It’s so calming when I look at the waves coming in. I could watch for hours and never grow tired. In fact, staring at waves is one of the ways I clear my soul. I connect with God as I take in the sight of the never-ending waves. They remind me that God’s love is never-ending. He’s always with me. He will never leave me.

I’ve needed that reminder many times through my life, but especially during times of grief.

We all experience grief during our lives. Some grief is light, and momentary. Some grief seems as if it will never end. In my experience, grief is like the waves of the ocean. But instead of sitting on the beach staring and receiving the renewal my soul desperately needs, I feel like I’m in the undertow, dying to catch my breath.

Have you been through a really difficult time in your life? I have. For some, it’s difficult to understand how so many things can happen to one person, and it’s hard to stay in the presence of a person who’s grieving for long periods of time.

My grief began about 16 years ago with the sudden death of my dad. He was only 57, a pastor, and healthier than most his age. His death took my innocence. I realized at age 34 that grief will eventually hit us all. I know many of you lived through grief at a much earlier age, and I feel for you. Before the loss of my dad, I found myself mourning some broken relationships, moves, and the loss of pets, but his death hit at a level I had never experienced before. I’ve often wondered if watching a loved one die over a long period of time is more difficult than having them taken unexpectedly. I imagine they are both horrible in their own way. With the first, you grieve and prepare for the loss while the person is still alive, but you have to watch them suffer. With the second, you know their suffering is over quickly, but the shock is so difficult.

Grief is hard. It feels like a wave trying to knock you off your feet, and drag you under water.

My dad’s death was the beginning of a 16-year journey of grief. I didn’t realize my schooling in this area was just beginning with the death of my father.

~2 years later my Grandmother died after a 6-month battle with cancer.

~During the next year, we began what was to be a joyous journey through adoption, as we travelled to Vietnam to adopt our 3-½ year old son from an orphanage. Our journey became much more of a war for the heart of a traumatized little boy, who had experienced so much neglect and abuse during his short life, that he would do anything in his power to survive. We learned first-hand about the sad, painful diagnosis of Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), as well as many other acronyms to fit the various medical, emotional, and psychological ailments that came with our son.

~Due to our son’s issues, as well as unhealed patterns from our own childhoods, my husband and I had serious marital and family struggles, causing us to seek help from numerous counselors, pastors, and anyone we thought could help.

~Extended family members, friends, and our church family deserted us in the middle of our trials.

~I’ve struggled with sleep issues since our trip to Vietnam. My psychiatrist has been fabulous, but I’ve suffered through long bouts of sleeplessness through the years.

If I could go back to the ocean analogy for a moment, I felt like I kept getting hit with wave after wave. I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t explain what was happening. The pain was so horrific, and the events happened so quickly, I couldn’t swim to the surface. It took every ounce of strength to gasp a mouthful of air before my head would be pulled under again. This continued for years. Not days or weeks, or even months.

~6 years ago, we made the heart-wrenching decision to relinquish our son to another family from our church. I felt like I was dying from the 8 years of parenting, trying to stay afloat. I knew if something drastic didn’t change, I wouldn’t make it. Losing my son was the most traumatic loss of my life. I love him. I wanted him to be part of our family forever. You can read my story here to understand RAD and what it can do to a family.

~After my son was gone, my husband and I separated for a few months. All the issues that we hadn’t been able to solve due to the constant survival mode of the 8 years of parenting our son had taken their toll.

~During the aftermath, and long years of recovery, I suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I learned that raising a traumatized child traumatized me.

Where is the hope?

I asked this many times, and came to understand what Proverbs 13:12 meant, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.”

Through all of this, I sensed God telling me, “I’m working, I’m healing, hold on, I’ve got this, don’t give up.” But the waves never stopped. Every once in awhile I’d have a respite for a few weeks or months, but the undertow always returned.

In spite of it all, I believed God. When I was desperate, I reminded him, “You told me you were healing this. You promised!”

Gradually (much more so than I would have preferred), God healed and even restored. We’re not done yet. I’m not done yet.

I believe healing does not come with time alone. Healing comes from a loving God who provides counselors, doctors, pastors, teachers, coaches, and friends to help us along our way. We need to deal with our own character issues, and truly grieve the losses, or they keep on stacking up on top of each other. Then we have complicated grief, and it’s much more, well, complicated to deal with.

If you’re grieving, please:

  1. Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually
  2. Ask for help from a pastor, friend, counselor, or coach
  3. Work through past grief that may have become uncovered. If you don’t, it will come out in your behavior and your friends and family will have to deal with it.
  4. Journal or talk about your anger, sadness, and hurt over what you have lost
  5. Joy will return. I don’t know when. I don’t know how long it will take, but it will happen.
  6. Lean into God. Call out his name. Ask him to show you what he’s doing, and what you might learn from it.
  7. Be open to walking alongside others who grieve. So many of us feel alone when grieving. Having someone who truly understands is such a blessing. Watch for opportunities to use your suffering to bless others.

What about you? How have you moved through grief? What have you tried that might benefit others?

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.