Caution: What you can’t see may hurt you

by Jason M. Karampatsos, Ph.D.

Family vacations are great. I have met people who dread family vacations as they go on about the driving, the lines for the attractions, and being cramped with the family for an extended period of time. For me, the driving time is just quality time, and we get along remarkably well as a family and genuinely enjoy being together regardless of how much space we have. As far as those lines are concerned, we don’t like them either and intentionally travel at times where we can anticipate shorter lines.

snow day

Take this family vacation for example. We took the family skiing for the very first time. Instead of going on the weekend during the peak of ski season, we went during the week in early March. The snow might not be the ideal skiing conditions, but we anticipated spending more time on the bunny hill where it would not matter as much. On a plus side (for the family, not the skier in me), the weather was nearly 50 degrees warmer than when our church’s youth group was at the very same mountain earlier this winter.

So it is winter, not a lot of people up in the mountains, and there is still a fair amount of ice and snow around. The last time we were on vacation in the area we enjoyed our trek to Swallow Falls State Park to view some of the water falls. Why in the world would we not return to see these beautiful water falls? What could possibly go wrong visiting the largest waterfalls in Maryland during the winter season, on a weekday, and at an off-peak time when there are sure to be very, very, very few people around?

Double Rainbow over Muddy Creek Falls

Double Rainbow over Muddy Creek Falls

In our defense, the park was open. We arrived just a few minutes after it opened, dropped $3 in the “honor system” collection box and then walked down the clearly marked path. It was the same path we had walked down last summer, and we were all very excited to see what the falls looked like after the heavy snowfall of the winter had begun to melt. That is about all that I can say in our defense. The entire path was covered in a thick three to six inches of ice. We held onto the railing and marched on ahead until we reached the safety rails that surrounded the top of Muddy Creek Falls. It was beautiful. We longed for a closer look, a better view, and a chance to explore the path that meanders along the side the Youghiogheny River and Muddy Creek. Our kids were all smiling, dressed for some pictures, and eager to see this natural beauty up close. But we failed to truly understand the signs around us, signs posted by those who knew what we didn’t…

caution sign

Sidewalks and Roadways May be Slippery

CAUTION. Sidewalks and Roadways May be Slippery. Yeah, that was an understatement. As we looked down the long tiered staircase that descended some 100 feet beside the waterfalls, we saw thick patches of ice on each of the half-dozen landings, but the steps looked clear. Looks can be deceiving. As I carefully walked down the stairs I had held my son’s hand in my right hand as his right hand held onto the railing. I also had my camera gear (4 lenses, a tripod, a few filters, and a flash) strapped to my back as my Canon DSLR hung precariously around my neck. We made it almost all the way to the bottom and stopped on the final landing before assessing the conditions for the final dozen or so steps.

The final steps looked a little more icy than the ones we had successfully navigated. As the mist from the fast flowing river descended upon these steps and rocks all around us, they had turned to ice and created a virtual winter wonderland full of beauty and peril. I leaned forward to check the conditions of the next step and found out really quickly that it was slick and icy. In fact, it was too icy to stand on. In that split second where I knew that I would not be standing come the next second, I let go of my son’s hand and began my icy free fall down the steps. In what seemed like an eternity, my life did not pass before my eyes, but I did wonder if any of my camera gear was going to survive as I slid down the stairs on my back (with all the aforementioned gear in my backpack).

When I finally reached the bottom and stopped sliding around like the puck on an air hockey table, I looked up the stairs expecting to see my wife either giving me that look she gives me when we both knew I did something foolish or to see a sigh of relief mixed with concern on her face. I had just enough time to hope for the latter when I saw something much more terrifying than the former, I saw my 5-year-old son now sliding down those same steps barreling towards me like a winter Olympian (just without the poise or grace). I managed to get just enough footing and traction to slide over towards where the bottom step was, which was inches from where the frigid water flowing by rocks and the icy railing ended ceasing to provide any protection from a one-way polar plunge.

I caught my crying son and just held him in my arms like never before. Thankful that he was safe, and my mind recalling the photo that I had taken just moments before about how the sidewalk may be slippery, I thanked God for keeping us safe despite not heeding the warnings. The two of us laid there huddled up on a bed of ice very grateful it remained white and miraculously free from any red. My wife’s body language loudly communicated that she was on her way down to us, and I quickly signaled her to stay where she was. After all, we still had two daughters on the steps with her that needed her, and we did not need another body at the bottom of these steps.

summer at swallow falls park

Summer Time at Swallow Falls Park

Obviously our briefly dramatic story ended well; 24 hours later I am writing this post, and no one had to go to the hospital or figure out how to call 911 when you have no cell phone reception. My wife and I were rather quiet as we walked back to the parking lot, a stark contrast to all of the laughing and joking we enjoyed just a few moments earlier. We were quiet because we were shaken up, but we were also thanking God for His hand of safety and listening to Him as He had a few things that He wanted to share with us to learn. Specifically for me, read the signs; benefit from the wisdom of those who have gone before you.

God has a side of Him that seems to enjoy the ironic, or at least humbling us by reminding us that not matter how smart we might believe we are, we are not even in the same league (or universe) as He is. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27) Children to humble religious leaders, choosing the likes of David and Gideon when far more “qualified” older brothers were available. One of my favorite passages in Scripture is found in Job 38 as God “answers” Job’s questions with “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” (verse 4). God knows how to put us in our place, and I am eternally thankful for that. Despite all that I had written or spoken on perspective and perceptions I still had more to learn.

From my perspective, my perception was that I could safely traverse the steps despite the clearly marked warning. In fact, I read this morning on the Maryland Park Service’s website the following:

The Youghiogheny River and Muddy Creek are white water rivers that contain severe natural hazards, such as waterfalls, violent rapids, swift currents, deep pools, underwater hydraulics, cold water, slippery rocks and rough terrain. Injuries and deaths have occurred in and around these waters. Visitors should be alert for these hazards and EXERCISE CAUTION to protect themselves and any children from potentially life threatening accidents.

Although that was not all spelled out as clearly on that brown rectangle sign my son posed next to, it was clear that this path may be dangerous. The U.S. National Park Service has a very memorable sign posted at Great Falls Park that has helped to keep my whole family in line while enjoying the waterfalls along the Maryland/Virginia state border, but no amount of signs posted can overcome a perception that “I know better”, or “The rules don’t apply to me”.

warning sign at great falls park

We would do well to heed the warnings of those who have gone before us. Chances are, you and I do not know better, and the rules do apply to us. There is a lot of wisdom that can be gained and heartache that can be spared by expanding our incomplete, and correcting our inaccurate, perspectives and challenging the perceptions that cause us a very painful fall.

Today my son is jumping around, laughing, and shows no signs of what happened just 24 hours ago. I, on the other hand, have learned to do a better job learning from those who have gone before me. Next time you come across a warning sign in life, whether it be on the side of the road, in a sermon, or in advice from a friend, take a moment to challenge your perception that you know what you are doing, and what you are doing is best, and be open that God may be giving you a chance to save some pain and heartache.

Jason KarampatsosJason M. Karampatsos has a PhD in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University Maryland examining the relationship between spirituality and marital satisfaction. He is the author of The Elephant in the Marriage: Discover what is trampling your marital satisfaction and how to enjoy a thriving marriage. Karampatsos is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and ordained minister who has been working with youth and families for nearly two decades. As a proud father of 3 and a husband for almost 20 years, Karampatsos knows the joys that God intended the family to be. He counsels clients in the Bowie, MD, office of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling. For more information about Karampatsos, or his book, see his website

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The Institution of Marriage

by Jason M. Karampatsos, Ph.D.

Recently, a good friend shared an article that was published in the New York edition of the New York Times that was later reposted online and appears on the New York Time’s website. The article is titled “The Divorce Surge Is Over, but the Myth Lives On” and discusses how, despite the drop in the divorce rate, the media and public at large continues to throw around the “50% of all marriages end in divorce” statistic. This led to a discussion of just how tricky statistic can be and how difficult it can be to overcome held assumptions (aka perceptions). In my doctoral dissertation I wrote about marriage and divorce in America and thought I would share some of that here today.

The Institution of Marriage

The importance of the role that marriage plays differs depending on who you are and where you live. The Census shows that 27% of couples in Baltimore are not married, but fewer than 20 miles away in the suburb of Columbia, Maryland, the percentage of couples not married drops to 9%. African-American women between the ages of 25-29 have a 70% rate of having never been married, while only 41% of Caucasian women between the ages of 25-29 have never been married. Despite the changing role of marriage and the uncertainty of the future definition and role of marriage in the American landscape, the traditional institution of marriage remains resilient (Pew Research Center).

The traditional institution of marriage predates modern records and has been a part of most societies and cultures around the world throughout history. In the United States of America, marriage has been historically seen as both a religious and legal union between a husband and wife (Bromley, 1997; Ripley, Worthington, Bromley, & Kemper, 2005). In recent decades the definition and understanding of marriage has been shifting in the eyes of many with an ever-increasing de-emphasis on marriage’s religious roots. Many of the world’s major religions that are practiced in the United States promote the lasting nature of marriage, and this de-emphasis on the pairing of religion and marriage has in part been perceived to de-emphasize the lasting nature of marriage (Richards & Bergin, 2005).

The traditional institution of marriage appears to be in decline in recent years with nearly one-half of all first marriages ending in divorce (Olson & DeFrain, 1997). However, U. S. Census data from 2009 (Kreider & Ellis, 2011) reports that divorce rates have declined over the last decade in part because many young couples are delaying or forgoing marriage altogether. This trend in delaying or forgoing marriage reaches beyond the past decade alone; in 1960, 68% of all twenty-somethings were married; as of 2006 that number had dropped to 28% (Pew Research Center, 2010). When asked, nearly four-in-ten survey respondents (39%) say that marriage is becoming obsolete, which is up from 28% in 1978 (Pew Research Center).

The suggestion has been made that a shift in the conceptualization of the understanding of marriage has even permeated the Church, as the divorce rate is the same or higher for those attending church as those outside of religious circles (Barna, 1993; Barna Group, 2008). Men and women in the Christian churches in America are remarrying at or about the same rate as those outside of the Church. The lack of a distinction between those connected with organized religion and those unaffiliated with organized religion might then appear to be a breakdown in the observance of teaching of church doctrine, but it may also further represent a de-emphasis of pairing religion with the institution of marriage. Marriage can be viewed by many as a voluntary legal contract that can be broken under extreme circumstances and in some cases as a casual nonbinding agreement that either party can dissolve at his or her discretion.

In the United States, over two million couples made the decision to get married in 2009, and one million of those marriages are projected to end in divorce (Tejada-Vera & Sutton, 2010). Although the past decade has seen a decrease in the divorce rate, between 1960 and 1980 there was an unprecedented rise in the number of divorces granted in the United States (Kreider & Fields, 2001; Pew Research Center, 2010; Pinsof, 2002). Approximately 14% of the US population 18 years old and older has been divorced—up from 5% in 1960—revealing an increasing population of Americans who have been divorced at least once (Pew Research Center, 2008). Deciding to end a marriage differs fundamentally from the decision to marry or to remain in a marriage as it can be a unilateral decision. Both parties had to come together in agreement to enter into the bonds of marriage, but it only requires the actions of one to end the marriage.

Excerpt reprinted from: A Marriage Between Two Perceptions: How Spirituality and Perceived Similarity Between Husbands and Wives Impacts Marital Satisfaction by Jason M. Karampatsos, Ph.D., Loyola University Maryland Jason KarampatsosJason M. Karampatsos has a PhD in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University Maryland examining the relationship between spirituality and marital satisfaction. He is the author of The Elephant in the Marriage: Discover what is trampling your marital satisfaction and how to enjoy a thriving marriage. Karampatsos is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and ordained minister who has been working with youth and families for nearly two decades. As a proud father of 3 and a husband for almost 20 years, Karampatsos knows the joys that God intended the family to be. He counsels clients in the Bowie, MD, office of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling. For more information about Karampatsos, or his book, see his website

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It all starts with perspective

by Jason M. Karampatsos, PhD

Our perspectives are the objective, rational observations of objects or events. Our perspectives are the literal point of view from where we are standing. Our perceptions are the subjective interpretation of those observations. Our perspectives inform our perceptions and it is our perceptions that focus on emotionally connecting the dots of what we saw and subjectively formulating what it means to us. If our perspective is not providing us with correct or helpful information, then naturally our perception will be biased and impaired.

It all starts with perspective.

It all starts with perspective. Perspectives inform our perceptions, and our perceptions form the reality that we know and respond to.

I wanted to begin by getting that right out there and making it as simple and clear as possible, because what you see influences what you think you have seen, and what you think you have seen creates the reality from which you react to and respond from. I also wanted to begin by getting that right out there because for regular readers of my blog and now subscribers to this bi-monthly newsletter written for and shared on behalf of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling you will see me refer to PERSPECTIVES and PERCEPTIONS frequently, and I felt it best to start off by sharing a quick summary of the distinction between the two terms.

I am sharing this specifically with you because many of you (and not just dozens, or hundreds, but literally over 1,000 of you) helped me to discover the importance of perception while conducting my doctoral research over 3 years ago. What began as a study of the role one’s relationship with God played in predicting one’s marital satisfaction ended up uncovering some truths that had never been written about before. Sure, there were several hypotheses that were proposed and confirmed, and I look forward to sharing with you those results in upcoming posts, but I thought it would be more fitting (and more fun) to share with you something that we did not expect to find: your perceptions are greater than reality.

As it turns out, statistically speaking and within the context of my doctoral dissertation study, perception is four times greater than reality. I am also eager to share the nuances and mathematical support for that statement, but let me begin where many of us like to end and share and offer how this impacts you and I on a daily basis.

What we think we see is more important than what we see.


What we think we see is more important than what we see. There is a cartoon I have seen online where a man is drawn stranded on an island in the first frame. He sees a man on a boat in the distance, throws his arms up, and exclaims, “Boat!” believing that his rescuer has finally arrived. In the second frame, we see a man standing on a boat with his arms also up over his head, looking toward the first man as he celebrates and yells, “Land!” A single-word caption below the cartoon reads, “Perspective…” It all starts with perspective.

What we see from where we are standing has the power to give us hope or to crush our spirits. Being stranded on an island or surviving on a lifeboat after being adrift at sea provides you with a singular perspective. The bad news for our two stranded cartoon characters is that neither one is rescued, even if no longer alone. The good news is that they are fictional characters, and it does not matter what happens to them. You, on the other hand, are indeed real, and it matters a great deal what happens to you. You are worth rescuing.

It all starts with perspective, but it is our perception (what we think we see) that informs how we are going to respond. If you see value in your marriage and believe it is worth fighting for, you will be more inclined to do whatever it takes to strengthen your marriage. If you think your boss does not like you, then you will likely read into things and become even more convinced that your boss does not like you. If you believe that you have what it takes to score the winning point or goal when it really matters, guess who will be empowered to be there when the game is on the line? To a very large degree, what you think you see is more important that real reality, because it is the reality from which we respond out of.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.

sunrise and grass

Lining up our perceived reality with real reality will transform your life and every relationship you have. In our upcoming posts we’ll discuss some strategies on how to challenge our perceptions and find the truth, but for now let us be open to God showing us that all that we thought we have known may not be all that there is to be known. Isaiah 55:8 offers us some humbling words, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Perhaps what we have needed to bring about a positive change in a friendship, our marriage, or at work has been right before us all along, we just didn’t recognize it or see it. Thankfully, God knows all and sees all, and with some time, effort and a little bit of help we can learn to see things a little clearer and a little more like things really are.

I invite you today to ask God to begin to show you whatever it is He may want to show you, and to be open to seeing something again for the very first time.
Jason KarampatsosJason M. Karampatsos has a PhD in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola University Maryland examining the relationship between spirituality and marital satisfaction. He is the author of The Elephant in the Marriage: Discover what is trampling your marital satisfaction and how to enjoy a thriving marriage. Karampatsos is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor and ordained minister who has been working with youth and families for nearly two decades. As a proud father of 3 and a husband for almost 20 years, Karampatsos knows the joys that God intended the family to be. He counsels clients in the Bowie, MD, office of Safe Harbor Christian Counseling. For more information about Karampatsos, or his book, see his website

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Ringing in the Holidays: Recognizing the Signs of Substance Abuse

HE_holiday-drinking_s4x3_leadThe holidays can be a time of great joy and togetherness, but they can also bring about feelings of stress and higher emotion. While many people are able to take these situations in stride, others have a more difficult time coping. This can lead to increased drinking or drug use. In addition, holiday parties can be an easy way to mask excessive drinking as being social or getting caught up in a good time. Recognizing that a friend or family member may be engaging in substance abuse can help you to get them the help that they need to recover.

Acting secretively or suspiciously. You know your loved one’s normal behaviors and what seems out of the ordinary. When someone is misusing drugs or alcohol they often become more secretive as they hide their use or its effects. Whereas they are usually mingling and interacting at a party, they may become more withdrawn and disappear for periods of time.

Becoming more aggressive, anxious, or paranoid. Substance abuse can impact mental health and behavior. Take note if they seem to get angry more easily and have been getting into fights or arguments. Are they jumpy and anxious when others are around? Do they seem to be paranoid or fearful of what is to come? Drug abuse can cause sudden mood swings or changes in personality.

Slacking on responsibilities or missing appointments. While under the influence, the person may be late for meetings, have poor attendance at work or school, and not be performing at their usual level. They may begin neglecting their responsibilities and have less interest in things that they used to enjoy.

Changes in physical appearance. Substance abuse can lead to changes in appetite, bloodshot or glossy eyes, sweating, nausea, unusual smelling breath, puffy face, pale skin, and more. The person may not keep up with personal hygiene as well as they once did. In addition, their speech may be slurred and they may have difficulty remembering.

Making excuses for behavior. To hide their substance use, they may always have an excuse. It could be to relax, de-stress, or celebrate. They may downplay how much they have had to drink or blame incidents on another cause. It is important to stay alert and recognize when these stories may not line up or seem unusual.

If you feel that your loved one may have a substance abuse problem, counseling can help them to overcome these issues. They can work through challenges that they are facing in a safe, supportive environment and develop healthier, more effective ways of coping. The counselor can help to get to the root of problems and manage underlying issues. They can also help families to build stronger relationships and be supportive of recovery efforts.

Early detection of substance abuse can help to prevent it from developing into addiction or causing more serious problems. Educating yourself on signs, symptoms, and ways to get help can allow you to identify potential issues and be proactive in addressing them. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance abuse, Safe Harbor Christian Counseling can help you find your way. Learn more effective strategies for controlling or overcoming your substance use and healthier ways to deal with stress and life’s challenges. Visit or call 1-800-305-2089 to learn more and schedule an appointment with one of our counselors today.

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Making Friends: Helping Children Improve Peer Relationships

PlayDateTo some children, making friends comes very naturally. They seem to always be surrounded by others and interact very well. For other children, this can be more of a challenge. They’re not sure what to say or how to act or may be lacking self-confidence. Friendships are an integral part of a well-balanced life and positive social interactions. Helping your child to develop these essential skills can have a long-lasting effect and benefit them throughout their lives.

  • Be a positive role model: Set a good example for your children by letting them see how you interact with others. Show support for friends and family, be compassionate, and work through challenges in a healthy way. Model appropriate behaviors for being a friend.
  • Help them to problem solve: It can be tempting to want to fix everything and protect your child from getting hurt, but this does not help them in the long run. Rather than solving problems for them, work together to come up with solutions. Discuss how to respond to challenging situations, appropriate responses, and different ways they can approach things. Encourage them to work things out but be ready to step in should things become more serious.
  • Plan play dates: Invite one or two children over to your home to play. This way your child can put in place some of the skills they have been working on in a safer, more comfortable environment. Find out who they like spending time with and activities they enjoy. Be there to support problem solving and provide small prompts to help them along if necessary.
  • Capitalize on teachable moments: Look for opportunities to discuss friendships through books, movies, television shows, or things you see in the community. This can be a great way to for kids to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and responses. Talk about what happened and different scenarios for dealing with the situation. Guide them in building social skills and understanding how to effectively interact with others and respond in various situations.
  • Teach about bullying: Educate your child on what it means to be a bully and to be bullied. Raising their awareness can help them to be more alert to these situations and tailor their own behavior so they are not bullying others. It can also help them to make friends by understanding how to be a better friend.
  • Seek counseling: If you fear that your child’s social skills are inhibiting their ability to make and keep friends, consider counseling. A counselor can work with your child to build these skills, use their strengths, and overcome weaknesses. They can offer additional support and strategies for social interactions and behavior. In addition, they can help to get to the root of problems that you may have been unaware of and provide solutions.

All parents want their children to thrive and be happy. With the right support and interventions, they can guide their child’s development and help them to flourish. If your child is struggling, the professionals at Safe Harbor Christian Counseling are here to help. Trained to meet the social, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of children, counselors can work with your child on a wide range of issues to promote positive growth and wellbeing. Contact Safe Harbor Christian Counseling at 1-800-305-2089 to find out more about our counseling or set up an appointment.

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