For over a year now, we have been visiting with a longtime SYM friend who has been in jail. This season of her life has often felt like a waiting game – and the unknown has taken her on a roller coaster of highs and lows. SYM has seen remarkable perseverance in this individual. She has decided to make the most of her time, and continually has surprised us with her endurance. During our visits, she has slowly been sharing her poetry with us. She has found a sense of purpose in sharing her poems with other inmates, guards and visitors; sometimes even writing poems to bring encouragement into specific circumstances. We hope that her writing inspires you to consider something new today.
By Dan Lafferty
I was struck recently - thinking about Jesus and his need to remove himself from the community in order to spend time with God. Thinking about how, as a spiritual discipline it is important to follow in his steps and do the same. But it's not a permanent removal. Always, he returns to the community and gives it everything he's got. I’ve been thinking about something - how we live in this constant tension - balancing, or rocking back and forth between ideal and the real, between our actions and our understanding of truth, between our desire to love and our inability to love perfectly. We should not consider that the tension is necessarily bad. In fact, a more healthy response would be to recognize that the tension is a necessary part of being human and to deny it, would in fact, represent a loss of this humanness.
So, though it seems like an oxymoron, perhaps the power in the teachings of Jesus have a lot to do with accepting this tension and owning it, and living in peace with it. This requires us to remove ourselves from community to rejuvenate, to re-create our ideals and love, and then come back again to apply them in the reality of our communities. In this we may see some success and failures, and we may falter, we may tend to slip back into judging or get discouraged and we may have to adjust our understanding of truth. Then it is time to repeat the cycle again.
The steps we take are repetitive, but they are necessary if we are to walk forward. When living in this tension with honesty and transparency, we inevitably become more and more skilled at applying the tools of forgiveness, grace, and mercy. These tools are the antithesis of judging others because we are periodically reminded of our own personal shortcomings; and it’s difficult to judge others without also judging oneself. This is the lesson that hovers over the work that I see going on at SYM and the philosophy that is applied by SYM staff. While the rest of the world would come up with a formula that requires the kids to change and deny who they are - implying that who they are is fundamentally wrong; SYM would have them become accepted and loved for who they are. This is recognition that for each one of us, true healing of the whole character can come only within the context of knowing and accepting who we are.
By Katie Juhl, Friend of SYM
Webster defines compassion as “the response to the suffering of others that motivates a desire to help.”
Redefining Realness, by Janet Mock, really drove me to think about compassion and what it means to be compassionate towards others. Redefining Realness is Janet’s story of growing up as a young transgender girl of color in Hawaii. It provides an incredible amount of insight into what she and other transgender individuals face in accepting themselves. Accepting themselves is just the tip of what they must face as they then deal with others reactions. Many times this results in them being alienated from those around them and being homeless. She addresses why many end up on the streets or in prostitution as a means of survival. Hearing her story made me think about what it is that I could do to help. Again the thought of compassion came to mind and that this would make a difference in how transgender people are treated.
This was further raised to me when I read an article about a potential ballot measure that would look to change rules regarding the use of restrooms in Washington by transgender individuals. My first reaction was sadness and then I started to think about how that ballot measure might differ if we all challenged ourselves to “dial up” our level of compassion.
Imagine what it would be like if what bathroom you were or were not able to use was a day-to-day concern.
Imagine what it would be like if you had to wonder about your safety on a nightly basis.
Imagine what it would be like if you had to find the strength to tell those around you that you were going to undergo a transition.
All of these are incredibly challenging things to have to go through, and if they are done in a situation where people aren’t displaying compassion towards you, they could quickly become insurmountable.
It’s this compassion for others that drives me to support the work that SYM does. I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be on the street or to be dealing with some of the “imagines” above. Aside from the lack of basic needs being met, the manner in which so many are treated is heartbreaking. Through my sister and brother in-laws work with SYM I have learned much about what might drive someone to be homeless which includes young, transgender individuals. When they made the decision to come out, they were quickly kicked out or worse. The stories break my heart and it is this heartbreak that fuels my desire to help. I feel incredibly fortunate that I am able to financially support SYM so that they are able to approach each and every youth with compassion, love, and to help them create a better future.
Reflections from Stephanie Healow,
SYM's Life Skills & Activities Coordinator:
Around August, we begin fielding questions from youth regarding SYM's annual snowboarding season. The waiting list fills quickly, and every Wednesday afternoon you can be sure that a large group of youth will be outside SYM, waiting to go to the mountain. A buzz of nervous excitement fills the room as we complete forms, load up the vans, and cross the traffic deadlock of I-5 until we are free to cruise East on I-90. I think for most people it is consoling to see the panorama of sky scrapers fade into tall trees and mountains. For youth often bound by the Seattle bus system, it feels even more extraordinary to escort them into the windy Snoqualmie wilderness, far past where the Metro lines end.
The 2016 snowboard crew has become a strong community force. Some of the participants were friends prior, but many joined as strangers. At the end of each snowboarding session, we gather around the propane fire and reflect on our experiences on the hill. On one particular evening, people were calling out individuals that shined or inspired them. My favorite part was youth recalling major falls, slips, wipe outs & my favorite, "supermans" (slamming belly down, arms out onto the snow). There is joy & laughter about recalling falls, because no one broke anything. The youth simply picked themselves up, laughed it off, and tried again.
"Falling was the best part because I knew I didn't die or break anything. I knew I was okay and alive."
--- a response to snowboarding
Snowboarding exhibits the resilient strength within each of our youth. It presents their ability to be okay with falling, the unknown, and the pain of often hitting the same spot time and again. Once they hit the snow, awareness comes to the present moment. Youth learn to stand up again, and slowly build the skills to carve and direct the mountain slope to their joy ride- rather than their collapse.
We often urge youth to consider how resilience learned on our snowboarding trips may be put to use in other areas of life, as well. SYM's youth experience many challenges such as addiction, abusive relationships, and the unknown of where they will sleep on any particular night. These factors cause youth to feel out of control and vulnerable... much like youth may feel their first night snowboarding. The powerful moment comes when they can reflect on where they fell, how they stood up, leaned into the problem a different way, and tried again. We are grateful to take youth snowboarding, and be a resounding force of encouragement as youth take steps toward building a life off the streets.