Holocaust Memorial Day was commemorated on 27th January and a documentary, Touched by Auschwitz, aired by the BBC. I watch little television, but I was particularly interested in this documentary because although it focused on what happened at Auschwitz, it gave equal weight to the lasting impact that Auschwitz had on the survivors’ lives and on subsequent generations. It was clear to me that some of those filmed still suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This interests me because I can, in part, relate. Readers of this blog will know I am currently receiving treatment for PTSD. I don’t claim to know what victims of the holocaust went through, but I do know how PTSD, especially that gained through years of repeated trauma, haunts you in the here and now. I am also trying to come to terms with the impact my PTSD has had on my children and on family life. I’m just so grateful to finally be receiving therapy, thank God.

The tragedy of Holocaust Memorial Day is that atrocities have continued around the world ever since, under various regimes, and that oppression and persecution continue even as I write. Because such things continue, and continue to be perpetrated by (under normal circumstances) ordinary people, we must revisit the tragedy of the holocaust again and again and again and again, lest we forget.

“So I started walking with him [a German soldier]. He says to me, ‘Listen, I don’t give a damn what you do. I don’t like seeing small boys being beaten.’…

“It was very dark… The smallest act of kindness appeared like a large spark. I choose to remember the sparks. That’s my motto and that’s what I live by.”

~ Max Epstein, holocaust survivor,

speaking to the BBC for ‘Touched by Auschwitz


Yesterday I listened to a sermon on Matthew 5:14-16, where Jesus is speaking to His followers right after the Beatitudes.

“You are the world’s light—it is impossible to hide a town built on the top of a hill. Men do not light a lamp and put it under a bucket. They put it on a lamp-stand and it gives light for everybody in the house.

“Let your light shine like that in the sight of men. Let them see the good things you do and praise your Father in Heaven.”

Matt 5:14-16 (Phillips)

I thought of Max’s words and was deeply touched. I thought of how God has shown Himself all the way through my life. He has shown Himself all the way through my EMDR. God has shown Himself within me and He has shown Himself in the kindness of people whose lives have touched mine. I hope He has shown Himself through my actions, too.

I think Max is right. I will go through the EMDR until I have ploughed the field of memories. That soil needs to be turned over before it can be sown. And then I will remember the sparks.

EMDR Diary

I have no idea whether anyone else has blogged about their experiences of EMDR. I had my first proper session this morning. The doctor (who is lovely) said it went well. I was left exhausted, frankly. I feel as if I have been hit by a ten tonne truck that hit me so hard it sent me careening into outer space. There’s a sadness, but mostly just a kind of blank tiredness.

I need to work on my ‘happy place’, I was told. It’s not some wishy-washy, fluffy bunny rubbish. It’s a genuine tool that has to go alongside the EMDR. In as much as the brain is stimulated to relive the traumatic events in order to reprocess them so that they’re no longer present in the form of crippling flashbacks, etc., so I have to choose a place which I can practice imagining being in as a way to combat the stress and distress of the treatment. It has to be somewhere where I am alone and it has to be somewhere safe.

My ‘safe place’ is St. Julian’s church in Norwich, or a version of it that exists in my memory. I don’t live close enough to go there physically, but I couldn’t think of anywhere more comforting than the place where Lady Julian lived, and where God has moved and breathed through the generations. Thinking of it makes me recall the famous quote from Julian: ‘All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.’

I hope to go back there in real life in the not too distant future. For now, God is leading me. He’s not carrying me, but I know He’s there. I know I am walking in His will and in His love. For this I am grateful. Forgive me if this is not a very coherent post. I really do feel like I’ve been knocked into next Christmas!


We’re waiting for Christmas in this season of advent, waiting for Christ the Redeemer, the Rescuer. As for me, I’m still waiting for EMDR therapy. It’s been nearly two years since I was first assessed by psychological services (or whatever the heck they’re called). I had to see several different people, for several different assessments. On the second appointment, the woman asked me “So, how do you compare yourself as you are now to how you are normally?”

I considered this and eventually replied, “I don’t know. I’ve never really known what ‘normal’ is like.” I then told her a brief life history. She referred me on. And then the next person referred me on. And then the next one put me on the EMDR waiting list.

Sometimes something will trigger a memory and I struggle to maintain a hold on reality, on normality. And then, even though I manage much better these days to keep the veneer of ‘okayness’, I feel drained and discouraged. I can’t even talk about the triggers, because they’re too personal, too intimate. Why do I feel ashamed of these ‘intimate’ triggers and their ‘intimate’ effects? I’m too tired to even be angry about it all any more. It just is. But being awash with disgust is soul destroying. It’s disabling in the very real sense of the word. What is the most disgusting thing that you can think of? What makes you physically nauseated just to think about it? Can you imagine living with that, and the shame and disgust associated with your own, private being, within your own self? I know that the shame is not mine, but because it is linked to me in such a deeply personal way, it is mine. I hope that when I do finally have the EMDR therapy I can be stronger, more resilient and better able to take care of everyone. I try my best, for the children in particular. Every day. One day at a time, but for how many days? I waited before. I waited and waited for years and years and years for God to act, for God to intervene, for God to stop the evil.

In the past few years I have read the following passage several times and wondered why it’s there. I have wrestled with it. God doesn’t intervene to save the woman. God doesn’t even punish the murderers, or the cowardly men who pushed her outside to save their own skins. Her ‘husband’, who had just travelled for days and days across the country in order to fetch her back after she had run off  – ‘husband’ in inverted commas because she doesn’t even warrant the status of a wife, she is less than a wife; she is property, thing – this man who is at least supposed to protect her instead deliberately pushes her into the midst of a violent, seething mob. She is attacked and violated so viciously that she dies. And what happens?




…[The] servant said to his master, “Why don’t we stop and spend the night here in this Jebusite city?”

But his master said, “We’re not going to stop in a city where the people are not Israelites. We’ll pass on by and go a little farther and spend the night at Gibeah…”… It was sunset when they came to Gibeah… They went into town and sat down in the city square, but no one offered to take them home for the night.

While they were there, an old man came by…  The old man noticed the traveller in the city square and asked him, “Where do you come from? Where are you going?”

The Levite answered, “We… are on our way home deep in the hill country of Ephraim. No one will put us up for the night, even though we have… everything we need.”

The old man said, “You are welcome in my home! I’ll take care of you; you don’t have to spend the night in the square.” So he took them home with him and fed their donkeys. His guests washed their feet and had a meal. They were enjoying themselves when all of a sudden some sexual perverts from the town surrounded the house and started beating on the door. They said to the old man, “Bring out that man that came home with you! We want to have sex with him!”

But the old man went outside and said to them, “No, my friends! Please! Don’t do such an evil, immoral thing! This man is my guest. Look! Here is his concubine and my own virgin daughter. I’ll bring them out now, and you can have them. Do whatever you want to with them. But don’t do such an awful thing to this man!” But the men would not listen to him. So the Levite took his concubine and put her outside with them. They raped her and abused her all night long and didn’t stop until morning.

At dawn the woman came and fell down at the door of the old man’s house, where her husband was. She was still there when daylight came. Her husband got up that morning, and when he opened the door to go on his way, he found his concubine lying in front of the house with her hands reaching for the door. He said, “Get up. Let’s go.” But there was no answer. So he put her body across the donkey and started on his way home. When he arrived, he went in the house and got a knife. He took his concubine’s body, cut it into twelve pieces, and sent one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Everyone who saw it said, “We have never heard of such a thing! Nothing like this has ever happened since the Israelites left Egypt! We have to do something about this! What will it be?”

Extract from Judges 19

Why is this passage even in the bible! I’m sure there have been arguments and debates over this, but my (unlearned) opinion is that this passage is here, in Judges, part of the inspired Word of God, for people like me: people for whom someone could have acted to stop evil, people for whom someone should have acted to stop evil, and people for whom the help didn’t come.

Hundreds of years after this woman (she is not even given the dignity of a name) was brutalised, Jesus came. He was rejected, beaten, humiliated, shamed for sins not his own. In Jesus, in His birth, His life, His teaching, in His healing, His death and resurrection, that woman and I, we find hope. I find myself.

‘Jesus Is Rejected at Nazareth

Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath he went as usual to the synagogue. He stood up to read the Scriptures and was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it is written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has chosen me to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free the oppressed
     and announce that the time has come
    when the Lord will save his people.”

Jesus rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. All the people in the synagogue had their eyes fixed on him, as he said to them, “This passage of scripture has come true today, as you heard it being read.”

They were all well impressed with him and marveled at the eloquent words that he spoke. They said, “Isn’t he the son of Joseph?”

He said to them, “I am sure that you will quote this proverb to me, ‘Doctor, heal yourself.’ You will also tell me to do here in my hometown the same things you heard were done in Capernaum. I tell you this,” Jesus added, “prophets are never welcomed in their hometown. Listen to me: it is true that there were many widows in Israel during the time of Elijah, when there was no rain for three and a half years and a severe famine spread throughout the whole land. Yet Elijah was not sent to anyone in Israel, but only to a widow living in Zarephath in the territory of Sidon. And there were many people suffering from a dreaded skin disease who lived in Israel during the time of the prophet Elisha; yet not one of them was healed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”

When the people in the synagogue heard this, they were filled with anger. They rose up, dragged Jesus out of town, and took him to the top of the hill on which their town was built. They meant to throw him over the cliff, but he walked through the middle of the crowd and went his way.’

Luke 4:16-30

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

and in his word do I hope.

Come, O come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel.

For we are all

Captive as well,


Ransom captive Israel.

Reblog: Llamas, Saints, and Gone Girl: Do you manipulate your image?


Excellent post about doing things for the right reasons, not because of what ‘other people’ might think. This is in part why I try to take life one day at a time, making sure I have a secure footing before I take the next step (i.e. do something – it doesn’t matter what that something is). As a former co-dependent/victim of abuse I know how easy it is for me to behave according to what I perceive to be ‘what other people think of me’ and slip into very negative, spiralling thinking.
It has taken many years to learn that I’m me – and that that’s ok. I will do what I know God wants me to do. I will not feel guilty about what I haven’t done. I will not feel ‘better than so-and-so’ (real or imagined) if I accomplish more than anticipated. One day at a time, one step at a time, side by side with Jesus.

Laura Droege's blog

file000283466689How do you see yourself? How do others think of you? And to what extent is their view of you shaped by your conscious manipulation of your image?

Why am I thinking about these questions? Three reasons: sanding furniture, a murder mystery set in a monastery, and Gone Girl. (What can I say? My brain connects strange things, and I may spoil the Gone Girl plot twists if you’re unfamiliar with the book and movie.)

A Saint Without a Miracle

The murder mystery in question is Louise Penny’s A Beautiful Mystery. Inspector Gamache is tasked with finding the murderer of a monk in an isolated monastery. The monks are in the Gilbertine order, so named after Saint Gilbert of Sempringham. As in all of Penny’s novels, the whodunnit is only part of the story. There’s past tragedies and relationship issues between Gamache and both his boss and…

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Reblog: Little and Nothing


I think this is why broken people seem to respond to God in a way that others can’t. Whether their brokenness is self-inflicted (by which I mean they have made poor choices) or whether life has just been too cruel, when you’re brought so low that there’s nothing left, you realise how much you need God and how you can’t even stand up without Him. This is why Jesus’ words in the beatitudes are so wonderfully true, although they seem counter-intuitive.

I’m sitting typing with my new Open University textbooks beside me, just about to begin the next module in statistics and probability. The more I learn of statistics, the more I realise how little statisticians actually *know*. But I still fall in love more and more with the numbers and the ‘truths’ they demonstrate. In a way, this mirrors my spiritual life. I’m making no sense(!) but I thank God for all that I have been through because it’s only in darkness that you can see the light. I don’t ask for more suffering and I don’t desire more suffering, but I know that without the suffering I wouldn’t know God and I know that my deepest desire has always been to know Him.

Lord, You are everything. Fill my nothing.

‘You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.

Isaiah 26:3 (Amp)

Contemplative in the Mud

Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal

To be little in his sight is not enough; we must be nothing – this is the foundation upon which he would build… The greater our annihilation, the loftier the building he erects thereon.
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

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1. In the wake of Saville…

There have been so many cases in the UK news lately about well-known people being investigated or charged with sexual offences. It all began in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal. Far be it from me to make any kind of judgement on any of the cases – I do not know any of the facts having deliberately avoided reading about them – yet I do have something very important to say. It is this: our justice system takes the stance of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and, although I cannot see how it could operate otherwise, we must not blind ourselves to the fact that either sexual predators are likely to never be prosecuted, or they may ‘walk free’ due to lack of evidence. This is what happened in my own case. Because of a catalogue of errors dating back 20 years, the Crown Prosecution Service was unable to proceed with a case against the one who destroyed my childhood through years of sexual abuse and terror. Sexual crimes take place behind closed doors. There are often no physical ‘scars’ left to prove what occurred. 

It is my belief that the way evidence is used and presented in cases of sexual crime makes our country a predator’s paradise. This has to change. One woman who had to go through the unspeakable horror of learning that one of her children inexplicably became a monster and terrorised his sibling – my mother – overheard a conversation a few weeks ago along the lines of “they [the alleged victims] must be making it up – I just can’t believe it”. My mother stepped in and said, “Do you want to hear the other side of the story?” and told them, quite simply and honestly, the tragedy that has shaped our family. They were truly shocked. Mum said their greatest shock was that it happened within a loving, middle-class family home.

Sexual predators are no respecters of class, of gender, or any other label. These predators are experts at manipulation and Oscar-worthy in their performance towards other adults.

Where does the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing hide but among the sheep?

Often only the victims know the truth and if we live in a culture which still, in the 21st century, naively says “I just can’t believe it…” then our culture will be, at least in part, responsible for countless more victims.

There are far more predators who walk free than are convicted.


2. Floods: when should we build the ark?

I read the other day that the recent extreme weather events, both in the UK and across the Atlantic, are ‘the trailer for Climate Change: The Movie’. This is a very good way to express it. Yet what has the response to the environment been, so far? A ridiculous, almost pointless, ‘tax’ on plastic bags; a few ‘they should have dredged the rivers’; an Avaaz petition trying to prevent climate change from occurring. Unfortunately, while I agree with what the Avaaz campaigners were trying to do (raise the issue of climate change as urgent), they are perhaps too optimistic: climate change cannot be prevented. It’s too late; it has already begun.

BUT if we all take responsibility for our actions we can slow the effects of climate change, so that the catastrophic results of a Global Mean Surface Temperature rise of several degrees Celsius (as opposed to a rise of one or two degrees) can be avoided. If we do not act, the ‘worst case scenario’ looks highly likely.

Individuals, you and I, can make an enormous difference.

We must stop treating the issue of climate change as a left-wing conspiracy. This has to be the ultimate in how to miss the point.

Climate change recognises no political boundaries; it can and will affect everyone, and the poorest will be worst affected UNLESS WE ACT NOW. TODAY.


Why I am Not a Survivor

In the Beginning

People try to put labels on you from the moment you’re born, it seems. Have you noticed? Some of them are benign: ‘healthy’, ‘thriving’, ‘girl’, ‘boy’. For some the problems begin at birth. What happens if the child is not healthy, or has ambiguous genitalia? Already the labels are out of kilter.

I had some nice labels attached to me when I was an infant. I was loved and treasured. I lived in one of the world’s most prosperous countries. As I grew a little older, I heard the words ‘gifted’ and ‘clever’. My mother at one point went as far as getting the prospectus for one of the local prep schools, to see if I might earn a scholarship, but decided against it because I was already thriving in a happy little C. of E. school. I was given books and toys at Christmas and birthdays which subtly reflected this notion of ‘clever’ and ‘gifted’: a microscope, a typewriter, an encyclopaedia, ‘The Book of Answers’, a gyroscope, the junior version of Trivial Pursuits…


‘Gifted’ is supposed to be a pleasant one. Yet it placed expectations and pressures onto my malleable little mind. Somehow my sense of worth was in being ‘clever’. I grew up believing that all I had to do was to be more intelligent than anyone else, work hard, and life would be all right.


Although at the time I didn’t know I bore this label, I became a victim of childhood sexual abuse. Later, when I learned that I was a victim, I tried to ‘tell’… No one listened. I had to ‘tell’ numerous times before anyone actually took me seriously. No one in authority took me seriously, however, which is why it was never investigated.

Just over a year ago I was praying for answers to why I was still held by such terrible remnants of the past, as if they were woven and wrapped around me as a mummy is wrapped for burial. One night, after a particularly vivid dream, I woke and there was the answer – or part of it. It suddenly dawned on me that no one had listened when I had ‘told’ and why the **** had no one listened?! despite me trying to ‘tell’ several times (which was in spite of threats to my life from the abuser… do you know how courageous it is for a child to speak out when there have been threats on her life?).

Twenty years ago my parents went to the police, who never even spoke to me. Yet I was pretty sure they would now. Things have changed, thank God. I have changed. I am not afraid. I now await the results of their investigation. I pray for justice.

Twenty Long Years

Back then, I received counselling and therapy, which helped. Yet somehow it missed some vital, and I mean vital components. The label of ‘victim’ still seemed stuck to me, as if stamped like a brand across my forehead. It was synonymous with there being something innate, something within me, which was not quite right. My mother would speak about me in hushed tones to her friends as if I was ‘troubled’. I don’t know why she did that. And I never saw anyone get angry about what had been done to me, except my father, who was so torn by grief that I didn’t know how to discern the tumble of emotions he bound within himself so carefully, but with such fragility. Yet when I think of such things being done to one of my own children, or anyone’s children, I am angry enough to burst. I could kill. Gentle little me! Is it just me? Am I somehow more aware, because of what I have been through?

Going back to the past: at first, I tried to tell other children. Twice. Once in school, to a group of girls, and once to my best friend. No, three times; I tried to tell at my youth group summer camp too. I also tried to tell my mother…

And I was sent to a psychiatrist. This is not to say my parents didn’t believe me, but they didn’t really know what to do.

Yet why did they still let ‘him’, the abuser, be part of the family…? It reinforced, over and over and over, that it was me who was at fault. Me who was screwed up. I recall one day, after having ‘told’ my mother, having used the words ‘sexual abuse’, that she took ‘him’ and me to a village tea room, where we had afternoon tea and scones… How very pleasant. How very Orwellian in its screwed-up Englishness.

You couldn’t make it up, frankly, could you? I mean, who the **** hears their 13-year-old daughter say, “I was sexually abused by so-and-so” and subsequently treats everything and everyone as normal??? 

No one tried to find out what had happened. And the abuser was still allowed free access to our family home. I was raped for the last time when I was 14. I had tried to ‘tell’ several times from the age of 12.

It took two years for it to finally stop. Two more terrible years. Why? And how could it possibly teach me anything other than ‘Sandy’s the one with problems’. Tut tut. Whisper, ‘It’s a shame, isn’t it?’

Sandy’s the problem. Sandy’s got something ‘wrong’ with her. A ‘troubled teen’. I was sent to a school for ‘troubled teens’ (though I was there ostensibly because I’d missed out on schooling due to illness). The head teacher, instead of trying to find out what my problems were, decided that I was ‘middle-class’ and therefore couldn’t have problems (at least, this is what I deduced) and on one occasion told me about a former pupil who was raped at knifepoint. I was bewildered. Should I reply with “I was raped too. Many times.”? Was it a competition to see who had been hurt the most? What on earth did she say it for? I could not reply. As I perceived it, it was said to make me feel as if I was attention-seeking, with little or no reason (I had not disclosed details of what had happened to me by that point. I was too traumatised to talk about it). 

So, on the one hand I had counselling and therapy, which was good. I am still in touch with my wonderful Christian counsellor, who was the only one, the ONLY one who spoke the precious words which would come back to me with full vehemence last year, “You’re not suffering depression, Sandy, you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

And on the other hand I had people treating me as if I had ‘problems’, or outright dismissing me, as the police did, cementing the idea that I was somehow worth less than other people. Unfortunately, the nature of being human is that negative things tend to stick to you. I walked into adulthood a very damaged soul.


Damage is what the first boyfriend at 21 saw, right from the first. And damage is what he grabbed and manipulated and coerced, to earn my attentions, and to manipulate my affections (love does not arise from being made to feel guilty, but I did not know that). Damage is what he made use of over the years, during the marriage, when the manipulation and coercion became biting words and flying fists. I didn’t believe I was worth anything better. I didn’t fully comprehend there was better.

Carrying the Burdens

For years, then, I carried burdens which were so heavy they crushed me. I didn’t understand what they were, or that they shouldn’t be there. I didn’t realise that I should be any other way. I sank deeper and deeper into the role of ‘victim’, because I had learned nothing else.

Eventually, after years of quiet, desperate prayer, something inside me changed. I decided that, despite what I had been told about divorce and remarriage, I couldn’t let my children grow up in such an atmosphere of sadness and misery. I knew it would affect their long-term development. I still had no notion of my deserving anything better! But I’m glad I valued my children enough. I’m proud of that. So, despite the idea that divorce and remarriage were both ‘wrong’, I made myself a vow. If things didn’t improve – meaning, if the ex-husband’s behaviour didn’t improve – within six months, I would leave. I’d find a women’s refuge, or something. Somehow. What made it difficult was that he’d promised that if I ever went to the police about his violence, he would tell them that I mistreated the children, that I was a bad mother. For years this had kept me ‘in my place’ because I believed I was a bad mother… Eventually (hallelujah) I cottoned-on to the fact that I was not the bad parent.

Fortunately, the police caught up with him for his other criminal deeds and then there was no question of whether divorce would happen or not. And it did, as quickly as I could manage it, though during this time the wicked man still tried to manipulate me and coerce me out of divorce! A convicted paedophile – a criminal of the worst kind – tries to tell me he is a Christian and does not believe in divorce. Insane!

Celebrate Recovery and the Road to Sanity

I then had to bear so many awful labels. All at once they were chucked at me. Added to my load. Social Services had to investigate me because of the charges against the ex-husband (I knew they had to, but it didn’t make it any pleasanter). I had to sit through a Child Protection meeting, which was the most awful experience of my life (bear in mind all I have been through and I still say it was the most awful experience of my life). It was the worst because they were questioning me as a mother, which was by far the most wounding. I also now bore the label of ‘single mother’, ‘benefits claimant’, ‘divorcee’, etc.

As I began attending Celebrate Recovery, the label of ‘survivor’ was offered to me. I accepted it with gratefulness. I was no longer a ‘victim’.

It is a few years since then. I have grown. I have changed. All by grace and only by grace. I am now, fully, ‘wife’ and ‘mother’. I am also ‘mature student’, ‘blogger’, ‘volunteer’…

‘Future pastor’? 😉

But what I have learned is great. The most great. Ever. It is this: these things don’t define me.

For years, as long as I can remember, I was defined by other people’s ideas of me, other people’s expectations, other people’s cruel actions, other people’s negligent actions. I was a ‘victim’. If I allow myself to be a ‘survivor’, I am still allowing myself to be defined by things that were done to me, even if it’s in an apparently more positive way than ‘victim’.

I am not a survivor. I am me.

My identity, my entire being, is as a child of God, who calls me His beloved.  He woos me and cherishes me and calls me by name. I am His and He is mine. Here is eternity. Here is love. Here is grace. 

All is grace, as Ann Voskamp is so fond of saying. And that, dear friends, is the most freedom a human being can ever have.

‘God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed… everyone… is far away from God’s saving presence. But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.’ 

Romans 3:21,23 GNT

‘…if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’

John 8:36

Free indeed. To be me.

Amen to that.

Hallelujah for the grace to just be.

Addendum: 2014

I think there was some anger towards my parents when I wrote this post. Now, in retrospect, having recognised my own mistakes as a parent, I realise there are no handbooks when you have children, especially not for the circumstances my parents found themselves in. I believe the fact their marriage survived is a testament to their love and their dedication to their family. I am thankful for my parents and esteem them greatly.