Life Is What We Make Of It
Hello Everyone! I feel inspired and honoured to have received an invitation to share my story with you all. I hope and pray my story will bless someone’s life, help someone who is struggling and to ensure that you are not alone in your journey – I hope I can be of comfort to you.
Sometimes change seems so far away or it seems like life will always remain the same. I have come to know and witness that life is what we make of it. If we want to see change, we need to be the change for our surroundings to be impacted. In my personal life, I have judged, I have cried, I have upset others, I have struggled, I’ve been hurt, I’ve felt joy and pain, I’ve felt invisible and unheard, I’ve loved, I’ve fought, I’ve won and I’ve lost. These are the things that have collectively made me who I am today – as a mother, daughter, wife, sister, friend and a woman.
My name is Rukshana Afu (Nee Ahmed). I much prefer Shana for short. My first and maiden name is Arabic, I was born a Muslim to a Fijian Indian father and Samoan mother. My mother was born a Methodist, she moved to New Zealand from Samoa met my dad, married him and converted to Islam. I was born in Auckland, New Zealand and 6 years later my brother was born.
Vulnerability and Rawness
Before I begin, I want to touch base on how difficult it is for me to share this part of my life and open up about my upbringing, as it is a past I have buried away for a long time – which not many people know about. But for my story to make sense – it means I need to show some level of vulnerability and bring out the rawness of what I have been through. What you are about to read is in no way throwing ‘shade’ on my parents and the way we lived our lives in our respective household. What you are about to read is my story, a story that is a living testimony about CHANGE AND BELIEVING in the good and that by having faith in Christ, things CAN work out for the better.
My Dad Loved Alcohol, My Mum Catered to [His] Parties
Growing up my family went through particular stages in life – my dad loved alcohol and partied every weekend, my mum would cater to these parties till the end of the night, where she would suffer from domestic violence. I was so young at the time but remember every scene like it happened yesterday. That life was so hard as I would dread the weekend and dreaded the sight of alcohol being brought home by dad. Fast forward through childhood, it got to a point where mum and I packed our bags while dad was at work and ran away to a women’s’ refuge. As a young girl, this foreign place was scary to live in and I could not comprehend why we would always sneak away from dad.
Although the feelings I felt towards him in how he acted towards mum or get crazy when he was drunk, was in fear, I still loved dad. Mum, having little to no support from family, caved in would return to dad over and over again. Things never changed until dad received a diagnosis that instilled fear in him of losing his life. This illness intended for him to discontinue drinking and to change his whole lifestyle. What a day this was for me! On top of the feelings of fear, sadness and anxiety towards Dad’s diagnosis, secretly, I was overjoyed with happiness as this meant, that he would quit alcohol and I would not have to worry so much about mum.
I Was Young and Explored New Things
Things took a turn very quickly and religion entered our home. Dad started praying 5 times a day so when he started, so did my family. We began to pray as a family, we took part in Ramadan and fasted from sunrise to sunset during the 30 days, we also attended Sunday school to learn Arabic, there I was taught how to read Arabic. I also came to know Allah through prayer and I always believed there was a higher power. I didn’t really understand though, the foundation of why we prayed the way we did or why we ate halal food or the basics of Islam – my dad never gave me a clear explanation of these beliefs but instead, said ‘this is the way we have to live’.
Mum taught me about modesty and dressing up properly in front of my elders and I went through a phase where I wanted to permanently wear the hijab around my head. During this phase however, I witnessed a-lot of the way dad treated mum and things didn’t change at home when it came to dad being controlling. There were countless events that took place that made me rebel against the religion and against my family. I blamed religion for the way my dad was. This was very wrong from my part. The actions of a man should never dictate the faith he belongs too. I was very young, ignorant and vulnerable and I began to dislike my faith. I started to explore new things and drink alcohol, snuck out of home to attend parties and also ran away from home to be with a boy. Amongst my home life, I was also heavily bullied to the point where I ate my lunch in the toilets. I kept this from my parents as I didn’t want them to know that something was wrong nor to have them worry about me, so I endured in the pain of bullying. I became friends with a different circle of friends which then came peer pressure to wag school and drink alcohol whilst in school uniform. I did everything and anything to fit in with this group so I could feel like I belong somewhere. I then dropped out of school as I was about to be suspended for unlawful activities outside of school in uniform and I got myself a full time job and started studying at a course. During this stage, religion was out of my life completely and I was hardly ever home. If I wasn’t at course I was at work and If I wasn’t at work, I’d be in someone’s garage getting drunk and wasting my life away.
I Questioned Sione ‘Why Would you Go to Church? on Sunday When You Drink on Saturday?
Sione then came into my life during this rebellious stage and he was no better of an influence to me. Probably not the type of boy you would want to take home to meet the parents. He dressed and lived a life of a street gangbanger. A tall Tongan boy, with his shirt that almost covered his knees. I fell in love very quickly and left home to be with him. Being together was not a good mix as we both partied and drank almost everyday, smoked substances that were illegal and he was jobless so I was his main income provider. Mum and dad were not happy with my choices but accepted him because of me. I actually wish I had photos of the impression Sione made on my parents face when they first met him.
Sione and I lived together in his family home and whilst living there I found out that his whole family were church members. He then told me that he was indeed a Mormon. I was invited to church on several occasions by his mother but declined every time. My faith of being Muslim in my heart stood strong and I knew to never to step foot in a Christian church. I also questioned Sione and asked ‘why would you go to Church on a Sunday when you drink on a Saturday’? I didn’t understand the hypocrisy behind this since I’m the type of person who sees things black and white, there is no grey area in my perception. He answered in a Christ-like way asking me to never judge anyone. I still did though.
Sione and I were not ready to live the way our families wanted us to live, as with force, comes rebellion. So we blocked everyone out and lived our lives happily, although we thought this was happiness at the time.
We were 18/19 years old at the time and I felt very independent in my life. We had our own car, our own flat, new jobs to get us by, I felt like I was on top of the world!
Just Like That, I Felt Like My Whole World Was Crashing Down
I found out I was pregnant. Sione was excited whereas I, on the other hand was very unhappy. I kept having these feelings of the reality that I am still young and how life was going so good and now having a baby thrown into the mix will put all of us out. I was purely, devastated! When I told mum she jumped with joy, however her response was a confirmation to me that this baby could be a blessing in our lives.
During the first months of pregnancy, Sione got himself into a bit of trouble with the law and was put on trial for sentencing. He was being charged for grevious bodily harm and was looking at jail time. This was definitely the hardest time of my life, not knowing whether my boyfriend, who is about to be a father to my baby, will be entering prison and will miss out on everything. Prior to Sione I had never step foot in a police station or courthouse so this life was very new to me. I found myself praying a lot. Praying for help. I prayed in so many different ways, with no set beginning or end. I just spoke and cried. As I became heavier in pregnancy, I became more in tune and wanted to return to being strong in the Islam religion. This was the only faith that drew comfort for me; but this didn’t move anywhere for me as I had little to no support.
Miracles happened and Sione was set free on bail with no jail time but instead a sentence to be served on home detention. I felt so relieved! I felt happy that my prayers were answered and only felt gratitude towards God.
Aliyah is Born, Our Whole World Changed
Aliyah was born a few months later in 2008, we instantly became young parents and our whole world changed.
Religion was a taboo topic between Sione and I when Aliyah was born. Sione really wanted a baby blessing with his family and my family wanted to have a small Muslim ceremonial prayer gathering with their family. It became very overwhelming for me and affected my wellbeing as a mother. I became slightly depressed and could not bond with my baby and just cried everyday. I didn’t want to upset Sione and his family or upset my family, so I chose to have neither and asked to never speak of religion again.
It was very hard having my parents in one ear and Sione in the other when it came to Aliyah’s upbringing with church. I think my parents felt like they had a much bigger say because of my relationship with Sione. Sione served his time with home detention but quickly went back to his old ways with his friends on the weekends. I felt like I was re-living my childhood all over again, except this time, I’m the mum, awake at 3am, waiting for a call to find out where he is, with a crying baby on my lap. There were a number of times where he wouldn’t come home and I would pack my daughter in the car in the middle of the night, drop her to my parents and go out to search for him hoping he hasn’t landed himself in the gutter hurt somewhere or locked up again. My parents were not okay with this way of living and always supported me in making the right decisions to fit myself and Aliyah. They were not happy with Sione’s actions but he was still considered their son so they didn’t have much of a say. I always told my family and friends the good about him and always held onto that even through the tough times. Despite all this I saw the potential in Sione, that one day I knew he would rise above all of this and become a family orientated man in our home.
I knew if I wanted to see change, it only started with me. Sione was still having his fun in life and I was mellowing in my depression of feeling so alone at home. I needed something or someone to rescue me from my own misery.
Conversion – I asked Sione to Take Us All To Church, I Felt Like I was Home.
One day I asked Sione to take us all to church. We lived in West Auckland at the time and found a small chapel up the road from us, we knew no one in our area as all of Sione’s friends and family who are members, resided in South Auckland. We attended the first hour of church at the Lincoln Road Chapel and we were overwhelmed by all the smiling faces that greeted us before we left the chapel. They all wanted to know who we were and what we were all about. I’ve never felt so welcomed in my life. I felt like I was home.
I know if it wasn’t for a welcoming experience so warm and loving, I wouldn’t have felt a feeling to attend church again the next Sunday. I was so excited when it came to Sunday every week, I felt like I was meeting family on a weekly basis.
Many people asked me why I didn’t go back to Islam and for a long time it was difficult for me to answer that question, because deep down I didn’t know how too, without hurting loved ones around me who were Muslim. However after much contemplating I now know why, and it has come down to my upbringing. I saw a huge division between man and woman for a long time, in my own household, in other families and then I saw it begin to happen in my own relationship. I didn’t want that. I also received no support or encouragement to go back to Islam. I felt alone. I felt uneducated and I felt I needed more answers. I didn’t have the best examples around me. When I came to know about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I loved the concept of families being united and man and woman being equal.
Sione Began to Work on Himself
After having missionaries over and being around his older brothers’ influence, Sione began to work on himself. I too was working on myself but was unsure of what to anticipate in the end, after all I was happy with just attending church on Sunday. I was asked by a missionary to set a baptismal date. I hesitated at first and answered ‘I had no date and I don’t think I want to be baptised’. In addition to my answer, my parents had no idea that I was attending LDS church, so being baptised was out of the question. I kept this from my parents purely because conversion out of Islam is frowned upon in the family. I didn’t want to put my parents through that shame and especially with the way I had treated them in the past with my rebellious ways, I didn’t want to put them through more misery.
I was then asked to pray about it.
So I did.
I prayed and prayed and received a warm feeling about it and knew I had to do it. I knew I needed to be impulsive in my decision making, so we told everyone that we were planning for a marriage and baptism in a few months! It was a very exciting time for us, the more we planned the more joy we felt, the more that feeling confirmed with us that this was the right thing to do. I worked up the courage to tell my mum first and invited her to our event. She declined the invitation as soon as I told her that it was in the “Mormon” church. I felt strong when she said she wouldn’t support me, I told her this is the one thing I think that will make me happy.
Sione and I Worked as a Team
Sione and I worked as a team towards this date. He needed to quit both smoking and drinking and I worked on repentance and getting myself spiritually ready for my big day. The struggle and opposition was so real. It was a hard journey to get to that date, we had several knock backs and all sorts of trials entering our lives. At one point I didn’t think I would get baptised, I questioned it because it was all becoming so hard, but I fought through the opposition and made it to the end. And all of a sudden when you think you can’t see the light at the end of that dark tunnel, you see a glimmer of light shine through and know that everything is going to be alright.
Team Work makes the Dream Work – Thee Faithful Shana and husband Sione
Married and Sione Baptised Me. I Couldn’t Contain My Tears.
We both cleaned ourselves up, Sione received his Aaronic priesthood, we were married lawfully as husband and wife and Sione baptised me into a covenant, an experience I am forever grateful for. Pure and light is what I felt straight after my baptism. I couldn’t contain my tears. I had no family there but I did not feel alone. I felt rich with happiness and I gained a strong testimony of prayer. My prayers were finally being answered.
Thee Beautiful Shana and Sione, both in white, at her Baptism!
Enduring to the End – Blessings after Blessings. Sealed For All Time and Eternity.
We set sail and moved to Australia to live. Blessing after blessing has come to Sione and I since choosing this path of becoming a member. My parents have now accepted my decision of becoming a member and have started respecting Sundays as our Sabbath. Dad likes seeing this change in us especially in Sione. We’ve worked hard spiritually together and as a result, a year and half later we were sealed in the Brisbane Temple for time and all eternity. What a blessing this was for our family! We were then blessed to have an addition to our family, our son Isaac. We have been blessed beyond measure!
As I take a moment to reflect and to allow all these events sink in after re-visiting every corner in my life. I cant help but feel thankful for our freedom of choice, our free agency. It feels surreal that I now live the life I live. I had a choice in all my doings in my life and I managed to find the right path, I managed to find the iron rod. My relationship with Sione is a lot stronger and the bond between myself and my parents is on a respectful level filled with so much love for each other. The church has taught me the meaning behind forgiveness. My dad has changed a lot from the man he once was, Dad and I are closer now than ever and despite what I went through with dad during childhood, it is now all stories for me, I have moved on and have forgiven him for the way he treated us. When forgiveness is in play the feeling of peace comes through… I love the quote by Quentin L Cook, he mentions – “The Saviour is the source of true peace. Even with the trials of life, because of the Saviour’s atonement and His grace, righteous living will be rewarded with personal peace”. This personal peace has helped me come to terms with a lot of my past and current issues. With all the negatives that took place in my life, I look back now with a different perspective, I cant help but look at my journey in a positive light. I have lived through so many dark periods in my journey and I truly believe that the Lord never puts us through anything we cannot handle. If anything, my past has guided me to where I stand today.
Currently I still fall at times, I live a very imperfect life and unfortunately I have carried a lot of my defence emotions into my current relationships that sometimes cause me to build a wall up so I don’t need to face any dramas. Building a wall can also offend many around me, so I am trying my best at all times to be the better me, to be more Christ-like and to always find that peace.
Church Callings & Profession
I currently serve in our Stake Public Affairs Team as an Interfaith Specialist. This calling has helped me understand about all the religions around the world, and how we are ONE in everything we do. My calling helps build bridges between our church and other churches. We have worked closely with the Islamic faith and built a very close bond with some beautiful men and women. This calling has helped me understand the Islamic religion properly which has brought so much respect to my heart for this faith. My dad loves listening to my stories that I tell him when I meet with other Muslims in our community, I can sense a level of pride when I tell him these stories which has also opened his mind and his heart to understanding Christianity.
Another area that I feel successful in is in my work. I currently work part time in a clinic called The Medical Sanctuary. I have also endured in some educational courses and have broaden my horizon in the birthing industry as a birth and bereavement doula, an infant massage instructor and hypnobirthing educator. Deep down I have always had a passion in helping people with holistic health, and with my birth stories with our 1st and 2nd child, it has driven me to start my own business in helping women have a holistic experience with birth because birth is such a beautiful thing. I know with my knowledge in the gospel and my passion for families combined, I can genuinely serve these families who need all the love, support and comfort. My story and business can be found at Inspired Birth Co on Facebook and official website at www.inspiredbirth.co
Testimony to Me as a Mother that I Am Doing Something Right
Recently my husband baptised my 8 year old in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, my husband and I were so proud of our girl. It was a very emotional day for us and also a very special moment for us. I can testify with our examples and the standards we live, rub off on our children. We are creating a better generation for our children with our own actions. Aliyah has always mentioned how much she wants to go and see the temple, and that she will be going in one day. This is only a testimony to me that as a mother, I am doing something right.
The Beautiful Afu Family – Sealed outside Brisbane Australia Temple
I Am So Proud To Be A Member Of This Gospel.
I have weaved my way through a life that is now just a memory for me. I don’t tell myself often enough, but I should really give myself credit for the strength I’ve held in walking a day in my shoes. I know all of us out there are going through something tough right now, and you all need to give yourselves that credit too, we all need to be a little bit kinder to ourselves, and I know and testify when life gets too hard to stand – you have to kneel.
Thank you for allowing me to be raw and for allowing me to dig deep. I pray this finds you well and that my life story will only inspire you to make the change that you want to see in your life.
Love Shana x
Moved by Shana’s inspiring story, I asked Shana if she can share few tips to our readers who are currently facing similar situations, these are her words.
- Never lose faith in the one you love. When people around me questioned my relationship with Sione and threw remarks in about him not being able to change. It made me believe in him more. I believe that everyone can change. We all change as we grow older and wiser. All we need is the right guidance to make better choices.
- Allow for mistakes to happen. I’ve learnt in my journey that making mistakes is okay. I mentioned how grateful I am for our free agency. With free agency it allows us to freely make the decision to what we think is best in our life at the time & then to learn from the choice we made whether it be good or bad. Agency is to act with accountability and responsibility for our actions. Like President Thomas S Monson quoted ‘may we choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong’.
- And lastly, pray always. Always pray! My testimony of prayer is strong. You may think He’s not listening during our time of trial, but He is! It may be the last thing on our mind to do when we feel sad, upset or full of anger, but I promise you, with prayer comes peace. And when there is peace in your heart, you will feel a relief overcome you and your burdens lifted slowly. You will feel comforted by the spirit and reassured that everything will be okay. Your perspective will change. It begins with us, the way we view the trial. If we look at things differently with lighter eyes as oppose to viewing it through the oppositions eyes, the trial may seem too hard to bear. Instead of asking in our prayers – why does this have to happen to me? Why me? Change the intention of your question to what am I to learn from this current experience? I promise you that you will be blessed with Heavenly fathers guidance through trials. Never lose hope!
I have learnt that through Christ’s love we can see our family’s divine potential. This is what has helped me with my past and current experiences.
With all the trials that Sione and I have faced, I am often asked on how we were able to make it on the other end? How did we handle the temptation of anger, worldly surroundings and separation? My consistent answer is that we turned to Christ and He cared for us; He never left us alone in our trials. A scripture I refer to with this is found in Mosiah 14:4 – my Saviour truly did carry our sorrows for us.
On that beautiful note – I want to share my feelings on the Atonement. The Atonement has made and left a deep and meaningful impact in my life. Oh how much I love the Atonement of Jesus Christ! He loves us so much that He gave up His own life for us. Because of the Atonement we can repent of our sins, be forgiven and become clean and pure. Christ is my perfect example and my inspiration in all things. He taught us how to serve one another. He taught us how to treat one another with kindness, and He taught us how to become better.
It is never too late to start serving one another and living our lives with Christ as the center. This month we celebrate Christ. We celebrate love, we celebrate forgiveness, we celebrate light & positivity and we celebrate family.
I’m really excited about Christmas this year. We are so excited to lose ourselves in the service of others and to be surrounded by love.
Do the same this Christmas, replace hate with love and give rather than expect to receive. When you do, take note on how you feel and grab that with two hands and run with it. Merry Christmas!
Alofa Atu, With Love
Thee Inspiring Shana, with her awesome husband Sione and beautiful kids Aliyah and Isaac, Bless their most beautiful hearts!
PACIFIC LDS WOMEN Wishes you all a Very Merry Christmas and Prosperous New 2017