My wife and I hosted a recent conference session focused on public school realities and trends that are transferrable to churches. My role leading an organization that partners churches with schools provides a unique, panoramic view into both worlds.
Let’s zoom in on a topic sweeping across our land and through the education system, and yet receives little mention throughout the faith community. That topic is “trauma,” along with its partner “adverse childhood experiences” (ACEs). Maybe you’ve heard of trauma-informed schools or communities. If not, you will. Or should. Same with ACEs.
Adverse childhood experiences need no definition; too many kids become victims every day. Trauma, though, refers not to the actual event itself but, rather, to the response and its effect on a person’s ability to cope. That effect travels throughout all corners of a traumatized life; school, church, everywhere.
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I volunteered to work at a basketball camp. Held in Gary, Indiana, just over a hundred four-year olds to fourteen-year olds enjoyed three days of skill building, scrimmages, and chicken sandwiches for lunch. They learned to dribble, pass, and shoot better, while the volunteers learned other valuable lessons.
Or maybe that happened for just this volunteer.
For example, I learned that a 50+ year old can miss a jumpshot, strain a muscle, and make kids laugh—all in the same moment. That led to a new appreciation for the phrase “Do as I say, not as I do” and new skepticism about “Mind over matter.” No, my body simply cannot move in the same ways my brain remembers that it once could. These revelations carry little value.
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Leaders everywhere share a common challenge: help people reach their full potential. In some cases, high potential. But such achievements rarely happen on their own.
My son Scott entered his senior year of high school football with low expectations. He missed the entire junior season with a broken elbow—a critical injury for a quarterback. The head coach remained uncommitted as to who would earn the starting role, and the anxiety took its toll on Scott’s confidence. Then someone showed up for him.
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Thank you, Dad, for…
1. Your smile that blesses me deeply—and stays with me a long time.
2. All those times you asked me a thought-stirring question rather than lecturing me.
3. Coming into my room before I went to bed for the night to explain why, so that I wouldn’t go to sleep angry or confused.
4. Loving Mom no matter what.
5. Loving me no matter what.
6. Getting your food after everyone else; I noticed when you settled for less without saying a word.
7. Making me feel safe; if you were scared you sure hid it well.
8. Worrying about me. And then calling to just say hi.
9. Believing in me enough to let me drive before I had my permit.
10. Trusting me enough to let me make decisions for myself.
11. Bailing me out of trouble.
12. Not bailing me out of trouble all the time.
13. Your calm voice and tone.
14. Always knowing what to say at just the right time
15. Giving me a nickname.
16. The hours you sat in the stands and stood on the sidelines to cheer me on.
17. Reading to me and creating a voice for every character.
18. Hugging me when I needed it a lot.
19. Hugging me even when there was no big reason.
20. Making me laugh.
21. Listening to me. Always.
22. Fixing things around the house. I admire your hands and marvel that you know how everything works.
23. Not fixing me but, instead, giving me the courage to fix myself and figure out how my life works.
24. Always having time for me, even when you really didn’t.
25. Waking up early so you could get stuff done. Or to just buy donuts.
26. How you provided for our family.
27. How you didn’t ignore the family in the name of “providing” for us.
28. Turning down opportunities for the sake of your family—we noticed.
29. Getting up in the middle of the night to check on a scary sound.
30. Not getting mad when we nudged you in the middle of your sleep when you make scary sounds.
31. Teaching me to high five, tie my shoes, ride a bike, throw a ball, shake hands, operate dangerous tools, drive the car, show respect, order breakfast foods, and paint with a roller. I never told Mom about the tools, just like we promised.
32. Encouraging me to keep going, never quit, and to not judge others.
33. Showing me how to not complain and, instead, renew my determination.
34. Stubbornly believing that I’m great and constantly telling me so, even though we both know I’m not. It felt good when you did.
35. Making a big deal of my homemade cards for you.
36. Convincing me of the high value of honor, honesty, courage, and curiosity.
37. Making me feel nearly like an adult before anyone else.
38. Making me feel like a fellow knight.
39. Making me feel like your princess.
40. Making me feel special.
41. Laughing at my jokes.
42. Getting to know my friends.
43. Telling me that I did a good job. Even when it was barely okay.
44. Knowing when the best thing for me was ice cream. Or your special milkshake.
45. Explaining how stuff works. Over and over.
46. All your wisdom—I repeat it with my own kids.
47. Working hard. At your job. At home.
48. Reminding me to take the high road, and setting it as an expectation when you saw that I needed “encouragement.”
49. Figuring out how to make vacations extra fun. Even the long drives. Kind of.
50. Lightening up the mood with humor.
51. Not taking yourself too seriously.
52. Taking me seriously.
53. Helping me find a job. (Yes, I know you helped)
54. Telling me about God and Jesus.
55. Living out your faith, especially when you didn’t know I was watching.
56. Letting me tell you about God and Jesus.
57. Convincing me that I matter a whole lot to you.
58. Letting me fall in love.
59. Letting me grow up.
60. Letting me fail without judging me or saying “I told you so.” And then reaching out your hand to help.
61. All the stories you tell.
62. Telling me know how much you love me. Always.
63. Every time you told me I have what it takes. You’re the only one who can do that.
To read the entire column as it appeared in Christianity Today, go here.
An idea arrives—possibly from divine inspiration, a unique opportunity, desperate need, or some combination of all three. And it’s big.
Brainstorming converts this idea into a viable concept destined to move the mission forward. Sharing a refined vision enlists support; now a new and exciting tomorrow awaits. The team crafts plans on how to get from today to that new tomorrow. Before taking a step forward, though, they plan a little more to get it just right. Then more. And more.
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At a time when so much of our world seems out of control, compassion remains a choice everyone still owns. Not the programmatic expression of the word compassion; the heart-sized, personal version. The type anyone can do. Or any group — even a church.
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David Staal serves as the president & CEO of Kids Hope USA, a national nonprofit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students. A senior editor for Christianity Today and International and former children's ministry director, he also authored these books: