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Do People Deserve a Second Chance in Life?
Do we really believe in giving people a second chance? Is forgiveness the responsibility of society as a whole, or are we individually responsible for forgiving others? Author, mentor and therapist, Annette Lynn Greenwood challenges us to look at the consequences of allowing people to ‘correct their mistakes’…
Growing clinical evidence now supports what many ancient cultures have long believed, that holding on to negative emotions such as anger profoundly affects our health. By mentally living in the past we are not free to experience the present, the mind manifests negative thought patterns that drag us down psychologically and by constantly going through such negative events we remain trapped. We suffer from anxiety, depression and other stress-related disorders, which physically manifest in the body, so that everyone can see it as ulcers, high blood pressure and often other disorders, which perhaps the doctors have no explanation for.
Spiritually we are in crisis; we are out of touch with our inner selves, feel lost and disconnected. Inner peace is replaced by inner chaos.
Experience has taught me that there is a myth about forgiveness, it is widely misunderstood. Forgiveness is seen as a sign of weakness, to forgive must mean we give in, but nothing could be further from the truth. Imagine how it feels to hold on to a heavy weight constantly, your arms tired, legs aching, when we mentally hold on to past problems and emotions, we carry the same burdens. Certainly, second chances and forgiveness go hand in hand, one dependent on the other, which is not to say we forget it, but if we all as humans reflected on our own lives from time to time, perhaps we wouldn’t be so quick judging those who are willing to give others a second chance. The following are two case studies, based on real events and people, only their names have been changed. I hope they will help you judge how far we as a society have yet to go when it comes to giving each other a chance to grow from our mistakes and help nurture a physically and morally healthier society…
Off the rails
As a young man, Wayne’s middle-class family had high hopes for him. However, Wayne decided that school was not for him, he had plans to live the high life.
At home, Wayne would for nothing exclude the attention and affection of a father who chose to send Wayne away to his room to play with his expensive toys instead of spending time with his son. Wayne felt increasingly isolated and, in an attempt to be noticed, began skipping school and was eventually threatened with expulsion.
His parents put him on the ground, but he would sneak out at night to join his much older, new friends smoking marijuana. His behavior at home became more irrational. He was rude to his mother, but in response, instead of talking to Wayne, his father just sent him to his room with further threats. Wayne often heard his parents arguing at night; his mother defended him, but his father had a different view. This began to sow the seeds of self-doubt for Wayne, he felt worthless and became more and more introverted.
At seventeen, Wayne’s lack of self-esteem made him easy fodder for a more notorious gang. Wayne now relied solely on the gang for the support he lacked from his father. His mother fell ill with worry; she almost hoped he would be arrested. She quickly got her wish. When she answered the door, the policemen, who explained that Wayne was in custody for assault, almost breathed a sigh of relief. Wayne can now turn his life around.
He didn’t. Wayne came home with designer gear from expensive stores. She confronted him to be met with a tirade of abuse. She feared the worst – drugs. Wayne was repeatedly arrested for driving offenses and assault charges. It was only a matter of time before he was sent to prison. The family fell apart and Wayne’s parents divorced.
Wayne wanted to start fresh, but he was in too deep, he was a drug runner, and put himself in a very dangerous and vulnerable position. Wayne loved his mother and decided to leave home before she was drawn into his problems. He saw no way out, even considered driving the car into a tree to end his life (that would fix everything), but he couldn’t get the image of his mother out of his mind.
In desperation, Wayne confided in the only relative who hadn’t turned his back on him, telling her the mess his life was in and how he had been thinking of ending it. He had dishonored his family, hurt his mother deeply and believed there was no way he could fix it; he would take responsibility for all the pain he had caused. He felt that the best thing to do was to go abroad with the money he had hoarded.
Not having slept for days, Wayne dozed off, giving his relative a chance to call his mother. She was there within minutes. Looking at her sleeping son, she wanted to cradle him in her arms, tell him that no matter what he had done, it would be all right. Love flooded her heart. She knew what he had done was very wrong and would not tolerate it. She could call the police and have him arrested; after all, he supplied drugs to innocent people, even children. Then she remembered how she had forgiven him when he had misbehaved as a little boy, she remembered that she did things she shouldn’t have done, that she wasn’t perfect. She remembered that her husband repeatedly sent Wayne off to his room to play alone – Wayne never got the love he craved. Some of the responsibility was theirs as parents. Wayne’s future lay in her hands.
As Wayne’s eyes began to open, he shuddered as he saw his mother’s tormented face – had he caused this? He got up to run but was stopped in his tracks by her words, “Wayne I love you, I forgive you, let me help you.” Wayne had been given a second chance, she had found it in her heart to forgive him.
Years later, Wayne’s life is so different. Now married, he is a proud father, has his own successful business and regularly sees his mother and family again. Unfortunately, he and his father never managed to rebuild their relationship. Wayne’s father wouldn’t give him another chance, wouldn’t let go, he stuck the event in his mind and replayed it over and over. He refused to forgive his son and kept alive all the anger he felt towards him. He didn’t realize that by forgiving Wayne it would free him as well.
My new case was Kelly, a 21-year-old whore. She had been convicted of prostitution and theft. In the interview room I was greeted by a small woman with elven features, strikingly beautiful and smiling warmly. An image of what a prostitute would look like had flashed through my head and it wasn’t! I introduced myself to Kelly and explained that I was to be her coach, that I would help her in any way I could to come to terms with life in prison and the charges that had brought her here. Kelly told me she had to serve two years for prostitution and theft; she did not deny the offences. I asked what had brought her to this.
With three young children, Kelly had been abandoned by her partner, who secretly made his money by dealing in stolen goods. As soon as he had enough money, he left.
Kelly described at the time, “I had to make money. Our apartment belonged to a friend of Dave’s, and as soon as Dave put up a bunk, they kicked us out. The kids are only little; twins, four and one. I had nowhere to go, we camped in an old caravan belonging to some travelers in a wasteland, no money for food or diapers I went to my parents for help but they said I had saved my bed. .. They hated Dave; they had never seen their grandchildren.
I stole food for my children, diapers for the baby. I had never done anything like this before. I didn’t have a fixed address so I couldn’t get any benefits. I was afraid of my children; I didn’t want them taken away from me. At first I hated myself, but I became numb to it all.”
Sat there wondering where we as a society had gone wrong. Somewhere along the line we had failed Kelly. She already felt isolated from her parents and now she had to live with the stigma of what she had done. Kelly went on to explain: “Things got tougher as the weather got colder, I needed to heat the place and I’d lost more than two stone in weight. At night when the kids were asleep I’d go through the bins at the local property I learned how to live off scraps and leftovers.
One night a guy offered to give me £20 if I had sex with him. I thought about what it would buy my babies; food, heat for the caravan, maybe some clothes from the charity shop for me. It was over in minutes, I closed my eyes as he grunted away on top of me. Afterwards I felt cheap and dirty, but in the back of my mind were my child’s hungry faces. I quickly realized that I could live like this, no one would help me, so I had to help myself, and I was responsible for three innocent lives. I prayed every night that one day my parents would forgive me, that we could start again as a family. I honestly believed that one day they would understand why I did this. Meanwhile, I felt I had no choice. Before too long I was arrested, someone had seen me. I was charged with solicitation and theft; they sentenced me to four years in prison reduced to two.
My parents look after my children. If there’s any good to come out of this, so be it. When my parents came to see me, my mother looked horrified, she thought I had anorexia, I had lost so much weight. My children do not know where I am; they think I’m working away for a while. I don’t want them exposed anymore.”
I told Kelly that in prison she would be able to reflect on her life and I could help her look to the future, it might not happen overnight but we could change things gradually. Over the many months we worked together, Kelly began to grow and develop as a person, her levels of self-esteem increased. The challenge we faced was how society would view her when she left prison, was she a bad mother? She fed and clothed her children the only way she knew how. I had to prepare her for the barriers she would face.
Her parents visited regularly and slowly came around. Kelly and her children were to go back and live with them. Kelly wanted to start her education, get some qualifications and try to make a fresh start in life. I wondered if we had the right to point the finger at another human being who had seen no other way out, who in his own mind had done what was best for his children. Should we be more tolerant and understanding in matters like this, should we give the Kellys of this world a second chance?
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