12 Ways to Help the Grieving

In February 2014, a dear friend of mine lost her husband in a tragic accident. As multitudes of people flocked to lift her family up and help in their time of need, I reached out to a mom who had lost her spouse years ago to see if she had advice on how to help a grieving friend.

It turned out she did. She had excellent advice, in fact, and because grief is relevant to all of our lives, I’d like to share the wisdom that she’s agreed to let me pass on.

Here is some food for thought, things to keep in mind when you want to help a friend who has lost her loved one:

1. Remember, you can’t fix things. When tragedy strikes, we all want to help. We rally around our friend and want to do something. Although there are things we can do, we can’t fix what has permanently changed in her life.

When God says He is the “God of all comfort,” this is a deep, rich truth. All true and healing comfort comes from Him. While God may use you to administer some of His comfort, it originates in Him.

The best thing you can do for a grieving friend is study your Bible and get to know God better. As you minister love and grieve with your friend, point her to our Heavenly Father.

Read More

Why Women Need Their Girlfriends

Years ago, I was at the beach with my family when I noticed a group of ladies nearby who appeared to be in their fifties.

With a quick glance, I knew they were on a girls’ weekend. All the signs were there – coolers & cocktails, beach bags with romance novels, straw hats, umbrellas in the sand – but most telling of all was their laughter. Lots of lots of laughter, the kind that draws attention and curiosity from anyone in earshot.

I loved watching these women enjoy each other. Although they were older than me, and well past my season of life in having babies, I could imagine being in their shoes one day, basking in the glow of old friends who still made me feel young again.

That afternoon, I saw two of them in the elevator. When I commented on how much fun they seemed to have, they smiled and nodded. One replied, “Oh, we do have fun. We’ve kept this beach trip going for twenty years and have been through everything – divorce, death, cancer, unemployment. Don’t ever lose touch with your girlfriends, sweetheart.The older you get, the more you’ll need them.”

Read More

When Your Kids are Mean to Each Other

My family and I have had a great summer. We’ve been to the beach, stayed up late laughing and being silly, caught up with friends, and enjoyed extra time together that I try to cherish because I know one day, we’ll be going in different directions.

With the extra time together, however, comes the reminder of how extra-comfortable we get around the people we’re with the most.

We let down our guard. We filter less of what we say. We let our true colors show – the good and the ugly – because frankly, we’re kind of exhausted from being on our best behavior around everyone else. 

Yes, the people who know us best also tend to see our worst because:

1. We feel completely comfortable and safe around  them; and

2. We don’t worry about them deserting us or writing us off on a whim because in many cases – i.e. family – they’re stuck with us. And when someone is stuck with us, there’s a security in the relationship that makes it easy to push the limits.

Read More

How Can I Make Them Want Me?

Recently I spoke with a young girl who shared with me a time that she’d been left out by friends.

It happened at school and started with a club her friends created. The club had its own rules, and when she overheard some girls in her class talking about it, she asked if she could join.

“Sure,” they replied, and with that she was a member.

Later that day, however, she overhead the mastermind behind the club – one of her friends – telling the girls who invited her in to pretend the club didn’t exist anymore. For whatever reason, the club creator didn’t want her friend to be part of this group, so she hatched a plan to continue it in secret.

As you can imagine, this girl was hurt. While she didn’t reveal to anyone what she’d overheard, she spent the rest of the day dwelling on the events and feeling confused. Why would her friend intentionally lock her out? What was the point?

Read More

Life with Lola: A Case for the Family Dog

Once upon a time, there were four little girls who begged for a dog.

Their names were Ella, Sophie, Marie Claire, and Camille.

American Girl dolls are great, but we want a live and furry friend!

“No,” said their parents, their voices firm and adamant. “Absolutely not.”

The little girls pushed. They whined. They cried and gave their parents a major guilt trip about being the ONLY FAMILY ON EARTH that didn’t have a dog. But the parents didn’t budge. They were united, and they told the girls that maybe, just maybe, they’d get a dog in a few years when everyone was older and more responsible. Until then, the issue was moot.

Time passed, and every so often, one of the girls would come home from a friend’s house begging for a dog. Immediately her sisters would chime in, making it a four-against-two debate as the kids pressured and pushed the parents again. But the parents stood their ground…even as tears were shed and angry little feet stomped across the kitchen floor.

“Maybe one day,” their parents said, “but not now. We aren’t ready. Our plate is too full.”

Read More

10 Truths Moms Should Know

It’s May, and you know what that means.

Time to recognize and celebrate every unsung hero called Mom.

Most mothers don’t give themselves enough credit. They may admit they’re a good mom, but a great mom? I believe many would choke on the word. Women are too hard on themselves, and nowhere is this more apparent than in motherhood.

Following are 10 truths moms should know. I hope they serve as encouragement, hope, and a well-deserved pat on the back.

Truth #10: While the world wants you at your best, your family just wants you. In the workplace, there’s little room for error. One mistake and you could be fired.  

But in motherhood, there’s more job security. There’s more love, forgiveness, and grace. While the world can praise you one day, curse you the next, your family’s not so fickle. They aren’t looking to replace you because the truth is, nobody can.

Read More

Chasing the Good Life

Several years ago, our family had a huge oak tree fall on our home during a storm.

It wasn’t just any home – it was our forever home. We’d moved in 10 days earlier. At last we had the space to spread out and breathe. We’d waited for this a long time.

The destruction was major, forcing us to move out. I know God doesn’t work this way, but at first it felt like punishment, a gavel of judgment coming down in the form of tree limbs crashing through my master bedroom ceiling.

What have I done wrong? I wondered. What am I supposed to learn from this?

The following nine months were the most chaotic months of my life. We moved four times, lived in a rental with most of our possessions in boxes, and faced several curve balls that added more stress.

Nothing in my life was normal. I had too many balls in the air…yet none I could eliminate.

From the outside my life wasn’t enviable. It wasn’t pretty, comfortable or convenient. It wasn’t “the good life” we all crave. Yet on the inside, I felt something positive happening, a spiritual growth rooted in my constant need to pray. I didn’t pray because I should; I prayed because I had to. I couldn’t cope alone.

Read More

Secret’s Out: I Have a Book Coming!!!

There’s a saying in football that I’ve always liked: “When you get into the end zone, act like you’ve been there before.”

Marie Claire, age 7

This is excellent advice, and when something good happens, I try to keep it in mind.

But sometimes my enthusiasm gets the best of me. Sometimes it swells and takes on a life of its own. While I’d like to act like I’ve been there before, that’s a challenge for a girl who’s a bad actress and tends to wear her emotions on her sleeve.

So I won’t lie. I won’t pretend I’m more refined than the burly football players who dance in the end zone after a touchdown, doing a happy jig, because I get those guys. Victory is sweet, and when you’ve worked hard toward the goal, it’s even better.

With that said, I have a SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT. It’s been months in the making, and now I can let the cat out of the bag.

Read More

10 Ways to Build Better Friendships

Last fall, I attended an insightful Bible study. The message resonated with me long after I left that afternoon.

The Bible Study was for my 5th grade daughter and her classmates. The leader was Donna Greene, who has ministered to girls for 40 years here in Mountain Brook, Alabama. Besides the fact that she’s amazing, Donna knows girls like the back of her hand. Her message that day – how to build bridges, not walls – was perfect for 5th grade girls. Using true stories to illustrate, Donna explained how beautiful friendships form when girls lift each other up and act as encouragers instead of tearing each other down.

Soon after the Bible study, a garden club asked me to speak. And as I considered what messages women my age might find helpful, I kept going back to Donna’s words: Build bridges, not walls.

To me this theme is as relevant to moms as it is to 11-year-old girls. It applies to every stage of life, because of all the barriers that prevent women from having deeply loving, rich friendships, two things that top the list are 1) our tendency to take our insecurities out on each other and 2) our reluctance to show our authentic, genuine selves.

Read More

What Next? Helping Kids Cope with Rejection

Life is hard. Disappointments happen. Sometimes we lose when we deserve to win. Sometimes we win when we deserve to lose.

As adults, we’ve had practice coping with letdowns. But for children, the pain is fresh and the wounds particularly deep. They’re not prepared for unexpected blows, nor do they understand how a loss might benefit them long-term. One rejection can feel like the new norm, and with every subsequent defeat they may fear they’ll never break the cycle. Once a loser, always a loser.

That isn’t true, of course – at least not for those who keep plugging away – but try explaining that to the boy cut from his baseball team or the girl who didn’t make cheerleader. Try convincing anyone who just failed miserably that there’s hope.

So what’s a parent to do? How can we pull our children from the pit when they fall in? I don’t have many answers, but I do know this: We don’t jump in the pit with them. We don’t act like it’s the end of the world or throw confetti on their pity party because that fuels their fears. 

Our attitude affects their attitude, and if we, in our infinite wisdom, send a message of doom and gloom, what does that say about their future?

Read More

Ashes to Ashes

There’s one day a year that I wear my faith on my forehead. Yes, on Ash Wednesday anyone who crosses my path can see that I’m a Christian.

And while I’ve been wearing the ashen cross since I was a child, it wasn’t until college that I truly grasped the meaning behind it. It took a major disappointment for me to learn a lesson that impacts me still today.

I was eighteen at the time, a freshman at the University of Alabama. I’d just tried out for Capstone Men and Women, a prestigious organization of university ambassadors. As most Alabama alums know, making Capstone Men and Women is a big deal. It’s a competitive, two-interview process made more daunting by the overall caliber of applicants.

With just a few slots open, the odds were against me, but I figured I had a shot. My grades and leadership experience had always opened doors for me, so why would this be any different?

Unfortunately, my first interview was a flop. I was so nervous going in, and in the formal atmosphere—where multiple people took turns asking questions—I grew self-conscious and tongue-tied. It was an embarrassing experience I couldn’t escape fast enough.

Read More

Love & Marriage

When my friend Greta got engaged many years ago, a man she knew from work shared a story I’ll always remember.

In essence, he told her the key to marriage is to love your spouse even when you don’t feel like it. Using his own life to explain, he described a period in which he and his wife hit a wall. They were fighting constantly and very disconnected. Their marriage hung by a thread.

Her birthday was coming up, and though he wasn’t in the mood to act kindly, he planned a surprise party. He forced himself to show love he did not feel, and it took every bone in his body to follow through.

As you can imagine, a surprise party was the last gift his wife expected. When she walked in the room and saw what he’d done, she looked at him dumbfounded. She’d been thrown for a major loop.

This man went on to tell Greta how the party turned his marriage around. By treating his wife differently, she treated him differently in return, and with every inch one of them gave, the other gave an inch back. Before long they set in motion a new dynamic that helped rebuild their marriage, which became stronger than ever before.

Read More

The Parenting Choice You’ll Never Regret

“Just give her extra love, Kari. Just give her extra love.”

The words were so simple, yet exactly what I needed to hear. Once again my father came through with flying colors, offering advice to ease my anxiety.

It came during a time when I was worried about my daughter. It wasn’t anything major, just a situation that had popped up.

And though I knew better, I made the mistake of getting on Google. It led me on a wild goose chase that served no purpose except to freak me out.

That’s why my father’s words were timely, because they centered me on a core truth. They gave me control in a situation beyond my control. They reminded me that no matter what anyone in my family goes through at any point in time, love is always the answer.

Read More

Who Am I to Judge?

“I try not to judge other people’s kids because I never know what mine might do.”

My late grandmother used to say this, and I think it’s as relevant today as it was in her time. None of us have room to judge, none of us are supposed to judge, yet we do it anyway. Within parenting circles, the tendency is to judge both other parents and their kids.

In many cases, it starts innocently enough. Wired to protect our kids, we seek out positive influences and carefully watch their peers to discern which friendships we do or don’t endorse. Using our wisdom and powers of observation, we scope out the fast crowd. We learn to find families that reinforce values similar to ours. We recognize warnings signs of troublemakers…and tell our kids to steer clear.

Our instinct to shield our children is a good thing. Since they can’t always see the risks, they may need guidance in choosing trustworthy friends. They may need help understanding why bad company ruins good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33).

But as we seek to keep them from being corrupted – because our kids would never be the corrupters, right? – it’s easy to get self-righteous. It’s easy to watch other kids misbehave and think, My child would never do that!

Read More

Raising a Kind Daughter

When my daughter Ella was in fourth grade, she got in the car one day after school and announced her plan to run for student council.

At her school each class has a representative, and I was thrilled she planned to put her name in the hat. Even if she didn’t win, it would be a good experience.

She told me almost every girl in her class was running, as well as one or two boys. As kindly as possible, I mentioned the boys might have an advantage since the girl votes could be split, as that can happen in elections. I told Ella I was proud of her for putting herself out there, and that she’d make a great representative if elected.

The next day after school, Ella mentioned a dilemma she and her friend Annie had “figured out.” On Friday all candidates had to give a speech. Since our family was going to the beach Friday, Ella wouldn’t be there to give hers.

“But Annie had a great idea,” Ella said, referencing one of her best friends, who was in Ella’s class that year. “She suggested that I do a video speech, and she’ll play it for everyone.”

I was very touched by this suggestion from Annie. Why? Because Annie was running against Ella for student council. Yet instead of treating Ella like a competitor, she treated her like a friend.

Read More

Identity 911

When I got married, I went from being called Kari Kubiszyn to being called Kari Kampakis. Transitioning from one odd name to another was easy. Figuring out who this new person was, however, launched an identity crisis that I didn’t expect.

I was thrilled to finally live in the same city as Harry, but moving to Huntsville from Birmingham meant leaving my friends, my family, and a job I adored. In Birmingham everything clicked for me, but in Huntsville I couldn’t catch a groove, much less find work. Everyone I knew was working, and being home alone, with no one to talk to except the postal carrier, allowed me too much time to think.

Who was I with my slate wiped clean? Why did I feel so small and insignificant with nothing special to say about myself except that I’d just gotten married?

For 26 years I’d been known for something – good grades, credentials, a promising career – but with all those things in my past, they were no longer relevant. My new identity, Kari Kampakis, had no interesting tagline, nothing to make me stand out from a million other folks in this world.

It was then that I realized a painful truth: My self-esteem was tied to my achievements. And when I wasn’t achieving, my self-esteem suffered.

Read More

It’s A Wonderful Life

She was never a part of my plan. And for that reason alone, I couldn’t wrap my head around her.

I took the pregnancy test for peace of mind. I knew I wasn’t pregnant…yet I had to make sure. A missed cycle had stirred doubt in my head. That doubt bothered me. I wanted it to go away so I could get on with life.

When the pregnancy test turned positive, my heart sank. A tsunami of emotions swelled inside me, and while I couldn’t pinpoint every feeling, I could tell that the predominant one was disbelief.

No. This isn’t happening. This can’t be happening. I don’t want a baby. We’re fine as we are. Go away…

In my head I counseled myself with a few basic facts: You have three children already. You adore them and your husband. You’ve been down this road before. You have a happy home. Why are you so freaked out?

Read More

Be Happy. Be the Blessing.

People often think of happiness as a reaction. Something happens and our spirits enjoy a boost. But really happiness is proactive. It’s cherishing what we already have and living life with our eyes open, purposefully seeking moments that fill us with joy.

Most of us don’t lead exciting lives. Exciting events happen, but not on a daily basis. Moments, however, are daily. They’re also abundant. And with each new moment comes a new opportunity to be happy. Even if we’re not happy with our life, we can be happy in the moment. We can savor it as we might a breeze, knowing it’ll pass quickly but enjoying it while it lasts.

As I write this, my baby girl, Camille, is cuddled on my lap. When she woke up today she called for me as she always does, saying, “Momma?…Momma?” in the sweetest voice ever. These moments flood me with joy. They make me pause and thank God she’s my child. In short, they make me happy.

Read More

10 Common Mistakes Parents Today Make (Me Included)

When I became a mom, I got lots of advice on how to love my child. But not until a few years ago did someone actually point out that loving a child means wanting what’s best for them long-term.

When my girls were young, long-term didn’t resonate with me. Back then it was about survival, meeting daily needs and keeping my head above water. There are several years that remain a blur, and only when I see old pictures and videos do memories get triggered.

But now that my kids are maturing, the fog is lifting. I’m no longer a pledge of parenting, but rather an indoctrinated member. The perks of this stage is that my kids want to spend time with me. We have real conversations that reveal their beautiful personalities. With everyone sleeping through the night, I’m sleeping better, too. I can think coherently and be more intentional in how I raise them.

These days, I put more thought into long-term. I think about the kind of adults I hope my children will be and work backward to ask, “What can I do today to foster that?” Being mindful of their future has changed my parenting paradigm, because what makes my children happy at age 10 or 15 is somewhat different than what will make them happy at age 25, 30, 40, and beyond.

Read More

A Silver Linings Mindset

Every morning when we wake up, we have a choice. We can choose to be grateful for what’s right in our life or grumpy for what’s wrong.

Nobody is born grateful. We learn gratitude by practicing it. This is good news because it means gratitude is within everyone’s reach. In any and all circumstances it works. Even if we’re skeptical or pessimistic by nature, there’s hope. Even if we’ve been beaten down by life, there’s hope.

Learning to be grateful is a matter of noticing what’s already there. It’s getting over ourselves and what we think life owes us. It’s comparing ourselves to those who have less – not more – and would kill to be in our shoes. It’s training our mind to see the good in every situation. By applying a new filter, we develop a silver linings mindset that can turn any negative into a positive.

Sound impractical? Let’s put the idea to use by thinking of everyday irritations that dampen our mood. Let’s take what would normally get under our skin and let it roll off our shoulders using gratitude. Whatever is bothering us, whatever we’re taking for granted, someone else is praying to have our problem.

Read More

Daddies Be Good to Your Daughters

I saw an old friend recently and asked about his little girl.

He immediately turned to mush.

The transformation advanced like this: His head tilted. He smiled. His body softened as if he’d been microwaved five seconds. In a final gesture, he rapped on his heart…one, two, three times. He never did speak, however.

That’s because he didn’t have to.

I know it sounds sappy, but the relationship between daddies and daughters turns me into putty, too. In fact, if you ever see me driving down the road crying, I’m probably listening to some country tearjerker like “Butterfly Kisses,” “I Loved Her First,” or Tim McGraw’s “My Little Girl.”

Any lyrics that remind me of my girls as babies—then fast-forward my imagination to their wedding days, where they’re waiting to be given away—pull my heartstrings every time.

Read More

The AA Way: 10 Lessons We Can All Learn From

I’m not a member of AA, but through the course of random events, I’ve met some amazing women who are.

They are funny. They are insightful. They are a joy to be around and possibly the most non-judgmental people I’ve ever met. The more time I spend with them, the more I realize what an incredible program AA is. Truth be told, I’m jealous of their connection and what they learn in group therapy because what AA boils down to is a healthy, wholesome way of life. It’s a philosophy anyone can benefit from, addict or not.

Now, you may think you don’t know any addicts. You may assume addiction recovery is irrelevant to you since no one in your circle is struggling. If so, it’s time to broaden your mindset.

The truth about addiction, one of the most pressing problems of our generation, is that it’s a dark, prevalent secret in every community. It’s more common than people think, and with all the things people can be addicted to – alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, shopping, eating, gambling, work, technology, exercise – chances are everyone will be affected at some point in some way.

Read More

If I Die Young

Nobody likes to think about their mortality, but the untimely deaths in 2012 of two Birmingham moms – both younger than me – really made me consider mine.

I never met Laura Black or Elliot Williams in person, but they inspired me. They were the moms/friends/wives/amazing women everyone knew and loved. For months I followed their stories on Facebook, praying as our mutual friends posted updates and bawling my eyes out at my computer. Whenever I started to complain about my life, I thought about Laura and Elliot. Compared to two moms losing their earthly battles to cancer, my problems suddenly seemed small.

What Laura and Elliot made me mindful of was that good health is a privilege. All the ordinary events I take for granted – driving carpool, grocery shopping, taking care of my kids – would seem like amazing blessings if one day I woke up and couldn’t do them. Because of Laura and Elliot, I became more grateful. I realized what an honor it is to be able to serve the people I love.

After these amazing women passed, I sat down and did what I’d thought about doing for years: I wrote down long-term advice for my daughters. I thought about what I want them to know when they go to college…start working…get married…begin a family. Just in case I’m not around.

Read More

What is a Sister?

“I hate my sister! I wish I was an only child!”

These aren’t the words a mother dreams of hearing, yet I venture to say they’re heard in many homes. Whenever they’re voiced in mine, my heart breaks in two.

My girls love each other, and I catch them all the time having Hallmark moments, moments where they cackle and grin simultaneously, making their faces mirror images…moments where they dance around the house acting like nuts and singing their favorite songs…moments where they whisper in quiet corners while glancing up to make sure I can’t hear.

In these moments, I have hope. I see a foreshadowing of the underlying bonds that will cement later in life. I remember why I have four kids, because what they give each other – the magical world of a shared childhood – is more powerful than anything I can offer.

Read More

What Criticism Does to a Child: Guest Post by Ella Kampakis

(Following is a post by my 10-year-old daughter. It was inspired by a conversation we recently had in the car about a reality show and the impact of criticism. Ella is wise beyond her years and has excellent insight on how we parents can help our children meet their potential in a loving, positive manner).

A while back I was at a friend’s house, and we stayed up late watching the show “Dance Moms.” While I really liked their dance competitions, it made me sad that the girls didn’t seem to know they had talent.

I never heard anyone tell them, “Good job” or “I can see you practiced.” All they said was “Work harder,” “That’s awful,” and stuff like that. They never told them they had talent. I can’t speak for those girls, but if that was me on TV I would have felt lost because I thought dancing was my talent, but no one was appreciating it.

What I think Abby and the moms should have told those girls is that they were still good and had talent, but they needed to keep working hard and practice. When the girls did work hard and practice, no one noticed. Nobody congratulated them or said, “I’m proud of you. Your hard work paid off.”

The thing about criticism is you remember it a while. Once you get that voice in your head, it’s hard to get it out. You start thinking the voice in your head is right. It makes you want to quit and puts you in an awful mood.

Read More