Saudi Arabia/World: Cancer, Faith and Bridges

Ever since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I have been candid in sharing the journey on my blog.  t I have been battling cancer since 2008.  I’ve taken readers on my blog step by step through the highs and lows of my journey.  I shared how my cancer was initially discovered and treated while living in Riyadh with my Saudi husband.  I’ve talked about the loss of my own husband to this dreaded disease.  I’ve written comparisons about distinctions in cancer care between Saudi Arabia and the USA.

At present I have had no treatments for my cancer for a period of time as I have been told that my body requires a complete rest and break from medications.  During this period my cancer has continued to spread.  Sometimes fear of what is happening makes my body and mind numb until I remember my faith.

At this point in my life I think it is important and vital for me to share my story of faith.  It will also illustrate the importance to me of bridge building with others regardless of faith, nationality, color or differences.

       I have always believed there is a God; that has never been a doubt in my mind.  As a young girl I was raised in a traditional Catholic family.  Although my entire family practiced the rites of Catholicism I never felt I truly understood the practices.  I remember asking a nun at one time why did I have to confess any sins I had committed to a priest and not directly to God.  I’ll never forget her response.  “Because that is the way it is and do not ask silly questions.”  Her answer only confused me more.  By the time I married the man who is my son’s father I had long left the Catholic church.

 

My journey took me to multiple Christian churches where I began to learn more about Jesus.  However, at that time in my life I was never in one location or a member of a specific church for any length of time.  As a result, my participation was irregular and I kept searching for spiritual answers.  I did attend Christian church services when I was in Virginia prior to launching my career abroad.  During that time I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and was baptized.  Any sins I had committed were forgiven and my body felt pure and reborn.

 

But, curiosity continued to beset me.  I have always been a person who wants to explore and experience and understand traditions and faiths different to what I know.  It was the time in my life I requested and received a posting with my then employer to Pakistan.  I wanted to work in Pakistan because it was different from anywhere I had ever been before, the work issues were substantial, I relished the professional challenges and had a curiosity on what it would be like to immerse myself in a predominantly Muslim country.

 

I was warmly welcomed in Pakistan by both Muslims and non-Muslims.  My work kept me as busy as I wished and was fulfilling.  Many Muslims became the dearest of friends.  I became curious about Islam and they were happy to share with me.  I felt it was prudent for me to have a basic understanding in order to perform best at my job. I had friends with whom I had much in common in spite of differences in faith.  They answered questions for me about Islam which I was able to understand.  We had some good conversations.  My faith and belief in God never wavered while in Pakistan.  I would occasionally attend a non-denominational Christian church which (at the time) was not far from the US Embassy.

 

 

While in Pakistan I met Abdullah, the Muslim man who became my husband.  As our courtship progressed so began another and more intense journey with me on gaining a better understanding of Islam.  There was never any pressure or demand from Abdullah about faith.  He made it clear he accepted and loved me exactly as I was.  Our relationship progressed and at the same time I was transferred from Pakistan to India.  I had felt very comfortable in Pakistan with a wide network of international friends and a man who I was growing to love.  Arriving in India only made me miss him more.  I started to read a Quran.  What I read at that time seemed to provide answers to me in a clear way which I understood.  Within 7 months after arrival in New Delhi I chose to secretly practice Islam.  When Abdullah learned of my decision he wanted to make sure it was not because of him or our relationship.  I told him I felt I had found an acceptance that I understood; even though I remained a closet Muslim.  I did not acknowledge to my family, colleagues or many friends about my decision.

 

In 2002 Abdullah and I were married and made a life together Northern Virginia.  In spite of his position as Acting Director of Islamic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, to the majority around me, I continued to remain a closet Muslim.  While in the United States together Abdullah and I would attend church services when visiting my family.  I found myself feeling comfort and familiarity at those times. Abdullah always remained devout to his faith but would have questions for church pastors or family members.

 

It was 2006 when Abdullah’s posting in Washington, DC came to a close and time for him to return to Saudi Arabia.  I was excited and scared at the same time to be moving to Saudi Arabia.  I knew how important family and tradition were to Abdullah.  I prayed that his family would accept me.  My fears were groundless.  They met me as the beloved wife of their son/brother/nephew and made me a welcomed member of the family.

 

Abdullah and his family were beautiful examples and teachers of the best of Islam. They practiced peace and tolerance and did not judge others who followed different faiths.

 

However the longer I was in Saudi Arabia and with the exception of Abdullah’s family and other friends, I saw too many actions which went against what I read in the Quran.  I felt that Islam was used as a tool and as a fear to control. I realized that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.

http://www.dawoodi-bohras.com

 I saw and read fatwa’s that contradicted one another. Why should one fear a loving and kind God?  Why should there be a count on credits earned towards Jannah (paradise)? The actions I observed were not limited to Saudi Arabia but the Islamic world overall.  I could not stop my memory that God is kind and full of forgiveness and compassion.  I did not need to live in fear.

 

Yet fast forward to 2008 and fear entered my life.  It was first with my own cancer and then four months later Abdullah’s diagnosis of a rare and acute leukemia.  Due to distinctions in the approach to treatment and Abdullah’s declining condition, we chose to travel to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas in March 2009.   When we arrived in Houston I saw churches again for the first time in 3 years.

Something happened in my heart and it clicked wide open, hungry to feel the peace and blessings of Christianity.  As Abdullah’s health declined, he and I began praying in the Christian way. We held hands and I let the words of prayer just come from my heart.  I reconnected with God and Jesus as my savior.  Abdullah knew of my feelings and never judged or condemned my choices.

 

In October 2009 I learned that my own journey with cancer was not finished. However, due to my cancer, I have a greater compassion and understanding towards others who are facing their own fears and battles

 

Abdullah passed away in February 2010.  I had to rebuild a new life while undergoing aggressive treatments. I learned not to take anything for granted.  I live each and every day to the fullest.  I no longer “sweat the small stuff.”  My cancer has given me a greater understanding of faith and trust.

 

A year after Abdullah’s passing I became a member of the Vineyard Church. I was baptized again reaffirming my faith in Jesus as my Lord and Savior.  The special feeling for Muslims as a people has remained in my heart.  I do not agree with the principles of the religion but do not extend that feeling to the people who choose to follow Islam.  However, I have chosen to have no contact with Muslims whose minds are closed, intolerant and can’t accept others who choose to practice a faith other than Islam.

 

My journey with cancer continues to be a roller coaster ride.  I’ve had multiple types of treatment; I’ve had periods of good remissions.  It was easy to let myself forget about the cancer inside of me and continue to simulate a normal life.  I have a circle of friends, I am active in my church and eager to give back to others as I can through my blog, my community, through bridge building and showing strength and encouragement to other cancer warriors and their families.

 

My cancer has become more aggressive but I know God, through Jesus Christ, works miracles and has the power to heal.  There’s nothing greater than feeling His love, strength and spirit inside of me.  I am proud to declare myself a follower of Jesus.  

 

Psalm 18:1-3,28,35
I will love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; So shall I be saved from my enemies.

For You will light my lamp; The LORD my God will enlighten my darkness. You have also given me the shield of Your salvation; Your right hand has held me up, Your gentleness has made me great.

 

 

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22 Responses

  1. Praise the Lord. You have indeed remained cognizant of the important issue that is the implications of God’s grace and mercy in terms of the place of our works in God’s plan (Ephesians 2:8-10). The Bible teaches that the most important thing is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength and love our neighbor as ourselves (Deuteronomy 6:4-5; Leviticus 19:18)… and that there is no fear in love (I John 4:18). I think that in posing the questions that people of other faiths pose, we can gain a better understanding of our own faith, and it appears that this is what you have done.

    Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.

    From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

    For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.

    I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. (Psalm 61:1-4)

    Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

    Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. […]

    Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. (Psalm 32:1, 2, 7)

    The Lord bless you and keep you

    The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you

    The Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace (Numbers 6:24-26).

  2. “I felt that Islam was used as a tool and as a fear to control. I realized that Muslims and Christians do not worship the same God.”
    Given this conclusion and based on your former work experiences and knowledge of both worlds, do you think that the US continued support for the Saudi system is harmful to everything this nation stands for? I am aware of the economic, spying and strategic services the Saudi monarchs deliver.
    Do you think that the Islam you reviled (many Muslims including many Saudis feel the way you do) should be fought and defeated before it gains strength and popularity among trusting and tolerant non-Muslims, especially Westerners?
    If Islam is used as a tool to control, intimidate, exploit and segregate in the land of its birth and home to its shrine, do you (or any discussant in this blog) think it will be used in the same manner wherever it’s allowed to gain strength? In other words, can Islam adherents accept the freedom of choice including changing one faith as you did without stigmatization or death?
    The Saudi-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation, OIC, (56 countries, most of them receive petrodollar largess) is pushing for a global criminalization of defaming religions which amounts to curtailment of free expression. Do you think this effort should be rejected? I do.

  3. Bless you and I pray for your health to improve. What a journey. It is sad that we fight over religions when there are much more horrible enemies out there, like cancer and other serious illnesses, that we should join together to fight!!! God has a mission for you, to help bring the religions together to fight the real enemy.

  4. great verses there at the end…thanks for sharing!

  5. hi carol, That’s a very heartfelt entry. i admire that you could get what you wanted at every stage in your life. As i grow older i realize that peace is what i want peace between my actions and god and the universe. small things like who’s what religion and which is better don’t really matter,
    I hope you will fight this disease or at the very least i hope you fight it to mantain a good quality of life, enjoy to the fullest and live happily.

    religion is a choice and it is what suits your needs best at that particular time in your life. I have always been hindu although i’m not terribly good at practicising it, F is a picky muslim, picks the parts that suit him and he’s happy i thnk i have also picked the parts of islam that suit me and kind of mixed it into my faith. yeah not terribly right but mehhh

    R is going the next summer to a 10 day vipasana meditation thing in spain somewhere . it’sa inner reflection total meditation/silence type deal it freaks me ou as to why somone so young needs to find his inner self !!! but outwardly I’m cheering him on, of course at night rant at F , who tries to explain…

    I think your abdullah was a lot like F , F didn’t even say anythng when both P and R choose not to follow islam. R is spiritual, not a rigid follower of hinduism but P is a rites and rules follower. she needs to ligt the lamp EVERY single day and sit with her head bowed before god for 10 min or else she thinks her day will be bad !!!! oh well i’ve given up trying ot explain that her actions are what make the day good or bad.. teens !!!. but now that the house is empty and i really miss her and the drama ( never thought I’d say this) and of course her cooking, I’m such a bad cook that F has started cooking.

  6. Thank you, Radha.

  7. Me dearest Carol as always your seeds sown at just the right time – I am in Jeddah and therefor cannot really say what I would like. Your message made my heart jump in joy! You are in my heart and in my prayers God bless and stay assured. Lots of Agape love

  8. Thank you for sharing your faith journey. It is similar to mine in a way. Although I do not identify as Christian anymore, I still choose to believe in a God of love and grace. May that peace that surpasses all understanding surround you and embrace you. Blessings!

  9. I agree with the points Radha made.

    @Radha,
    Although I am not sure how old R is exactly, but I think struggling to find one’s identity is quite common in a person’s late teens through late twenties. There’s so much noise and pressure from all angles: parents, other friends and family, peers, role models (what would they think), media, society, culture, etc.

    For me, was a long road to find out that what I really wanted to do was in the back of my head all along, but I didn’t feel ready when I was first entering college so I ran away from it. I had been considering medicine (although it was more ob/gyn at that time; now I’m more interested in oncology/pathology), fashion, and dance education. My heart is in medical research and treating the whole person. Fashion is fun and interesting, too, but my heart is in medicine. So now, here I am going back to school again. In some ways, I feel like I wasted a lot of time. However, if I had gone straight into medicine back then, I wouldn’t have anywhere near to the amount of life experiences I have now, which I think will help me better relate to future patients. And of course, I probably wouldn’t have realized what a gem my sweetheart is because I wouldn’t have had the same exposure to culture, heartbreak, etc. Also, I thought I didn’t have a good mind for science. Majoring in fashion while still being required to take science courses (for general education) helped me realize that one is not harder than another (or at least, they weren’t and aren’t for me); they are just different disciplines. So that’s a little bit on my journey to find myself, so maybe that will help you understand why someone younger may need to find him/herself.

  10. Your post touched me very much today. I was not in the least bit surprised that you went full circle with your faith. We live and eventually we learn what is right for us. I have not made it full circle yet, but I am close. Many blessings to you.

  11. Thank you Carol for this post. As a believer in the kingdom, it saddens me to see the misuse of Islam and the way it is used to control or separate people. However, I realize that segments of Christianity are this way too.

    I have come to realize what a complex culture the Saudi people live in. I learn something new every day. It is a challenge to keep my own faith, hope, and integrity intact.

    Thank you for sharing your journey and health concerns. I know I will never meet you in person, but you have contributed greatly to my life, understanding, and outlook while in Saudi Arabia.

    You are in my thoughts daily.
    Thank you.

  12. I thank everyone who has shared their comments. I think it is important to share with each other and especially when it comes to our spiritual journey’s and decisions. We may not agree with each others choices but we should respect them.

  13. @strangeone,
    thanks , yes it does sound plausible when you explain it that way. from our end we have never told him what to do ,just to do something that makes him happy an duse his strengths, he picked his major 🙂 and he’s a yr away from getting done. so education wise he’s set. anyway we are encouragig him to go and setting sfeguards in place as best as we can. luckily we know other drs in that area and after the vipasana course he’s planning to hike for a week or so there with some friends and my daughter .
    I was so tuned to seeing teens and college students whose main aim in life is to have fun – even the serious students that this came as a surprise. but like my husband says , he wants to try vipasana meditation not cocaine so cool it 🙂 i cant get over how expensive spending 10 days in silent contemplation is working out to be for him !!!

  14. @strangeone – lately for those who want to treat the complete person I’ve been recommending family practise , it’s much more than treating colds , you should look into that speciality.

  15. Carol,
    This was so incredibly powerful writing! I am so glad that we got to spend some time together while I was in Atlanta and re-connecting with you. I cherish those moments we spent together. You are truly amazing!

  16. Dear Carol, you are in my and A’s thoughts always. You have been so remarkably brave and candid in your journey. You know you have touched many lives with your writing over the last few years. I don’t post much any longer, but I read the blog every day.

    Thank you for sharing your story, it’s heartfelt as always. You are an amazing lady.

  17. Religion and culture mask our Creator’s true nature, infinite and loving. He speaks to us through His prophets, all through the Old Testament, Jesus, Muhammad and now Mikal (Michel Potay). He always asks us to change so as to be and do Good, to practice love, peacemaking, forgiveness, to rid ourselves of prejudice, to develop our spiritual intelligence.

    Have you heard of Dr. Robert Morse? He has videos on youtube. You might be interested in trying his protocol while you are resting.

  18. I felt that I was being directed to share my testimony and I’m glad I did.

  19. i need help
    I JUST NEED A DOCTOR FOR MY MOM SHE IS SICK PLS HELP ME HERE IS MY EMAIL
    CLASSIACALWOLF199@HOTMAIL.COM

  20. @radha,
    Thanks for the recommendation. I am interested in oncology and pathology because I am interested in the human body at a molecular & cellular level, and enjoy learning how all the different systems interact with each other. (I am also interested in biomedical research.) Someone suggested I might want to look into osteopathy, but I want to travel internationally as a doctor later, so I’m more interested in an MD than a DO because of international perception. Would you still recommend family practice, or is there another area you’d recommend?

  21. Thank you for your testimony.

    Psalm 23:1-6
    Jehovah is my shepherd; I shall not want.
    He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside still waters.
    He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
    Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
    Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou hast anointed my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
    Surely, goodness and loving-kindness shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of Jehovah for the length of the days.

    May God bless us and keep you. I pray for you.

  22. @strangeone,
    ok going by what you wrote ( ahain only my opinion) i’d suggest microbiology , even virology if youwant to specialize, it goes to the basic level and upwards and also satisfies your need for research and travel 🙂 they are much indemand and hold very high research potential, especially since many microbiologists are not medical doctors, by getting an MD you will have an insight and advantage .

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