by Ann T. Ning Tan
“Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me”
I suffered an Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) rupture and massive stroke in April 2011. I had just come home from Burundi with the intention of accepting an invitation from African believers to become a missionary. I was thrilled with the prospect of joining the King’s service overseas with Jesse and Joy Johnson. I had finished my MBA, moved across the country, and was enjoying a new life. I finally had something to give up.
My prayer journals document the process of thinking I was crazy, begging God to show me if I was wrong, discerning the Shepherd’s voice, and stepping out in faith. After I visited Burundi, my parents gave me their blessing. I met with the elders in Maryland and scheduled a meeting with my Oregon elders to ask them to send me out to the field.
Four days prior to that meeting, something exploded in my brain and left me for dead. I was at my place of employment at the time and because I was found immediately, help came right away. I received a craniotomy that saved my life.
An AVM is a cluster of malfunctioning blood vessels that can be found anywhere in your body, often in the brain. It’s a congenital defect affecting less than 1% of the population. Mine was asymptomatic because if they had known I had something growing in my brain, my parents would have never let me out of the house. As it was, no one knew, so I got my education, saw the world, enjoyed the privilege of earning a living and learned the thrill of trusting God.
Relocating to Oregon was a highly calculated move, signaling my availability. “If I won’t go to Oregon,” I reasoned, “How could the Lord send me anywhere else?” My prayer journals depict hardcore devotion to becoming “the kind of person the Lord could use.” I was extremely goal-oriented and relentlessly pursued the life I wanted. However, I was not driven by any lofty spiritual ambition – it was sheer desperation. I was constantly cowering, waiting for the harsh correction of the fictional Divine Being I had in my head, whereas I knew the scriptures promised me that His yoke is easy, and His burden light. I was desperate to feel the good of His promises – not just to know the truth theoretically.
This habit of anticipating the worst, of constantly flinching, were evidences of my personality type. I am a “worker bee” and a perfectionist. But I had always longed to have my occupation overtly aligned with Kingdom goals. As I prayed about going to Africa, I asked the Lord for “a life’s work.” I devoted myself to building strong spiritual practices in prayer, reading, and fasting. It was very basic stuff, but brought me to a spiritual, physical, and emotional peak right before my stroke.
The Lord was not preparing me for Africa, He was preparing me for this disabled life. I was asleep for over a month after surgery. As I regained lucidity I refused to believe that this had happened to me. If it were true that God put me in a wheelchair instead of sending me to the mission field, I knew it had VERY serious implications for everything I believe in.
It was God’s grace that initially made me so acutely disabled that I could take no meaningful action from my grief. I wandered for over a month in the valley of the shadow. When I woke there was a time when I could not communicate, I could only watch as things happened to me that I didn’t understand. I found out the hard way that I couldn’t walk.
I went to work one day and never saw my home again. My independence, my financial security, and my future plans evaporated. I was white-hot angry but cognitively intact. I evaluated the claims of Christ through the lens of cataclysmic illness and fully intended to discard my beliefs if they did not prove sound.
It took a few months, but I decided the gospel was true on “Decision Day” in July 2011 (shreddedgrace.com/decision-day). There was zero special knowledge communicated to me in the valley – I am asking no one to take my word for what I saw. I know that Jesus Christ is King because of publicly available information I knew about before I got sick. It took no extra revelation to convince me of the truth – truth is truth even though I don’t understand everything. Jesus Christ met the need of my heart and it was a deep need.
Now I write and speak about survivorship and recovery. I built an online presence so people can choose their own level of engagement and I can go dark at any time when my symptoms flare. I am extremely verbal about my faith (ShreddedGrace.com) but it is one of my greatest joys that God gave me post-AVM friends who are immensely different than I am but chose to stick around anyway. The content I produce is an easy, non-threatening way to introduce people to Jesus Christ, and encourage believers.
I have spent the last four years training physically to meet the demands of life at home and in public. I am also learning how to live with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I am often approached by people who have high levels of trauma and I would appreciate your prayers as I navigate these deep waters, carrying only the name of Christ, because everything else is so wholly inadequate to meet these needs.
The Lord gave me a team of gifted professionals who help me heal. In particular, David got me kicked out of physical therapy, and Randy taught me to run (I use an AlterG). They are the stars of my two latest books: “Learning How to Live” and “Learning How to Run”. All of my writing is non-profit and is available at Amazon.com.
The people God gave me after my injury, some who know Him, and others who don’t yet know Him, are proof of His care and provision for me. Something bad happened, but He has emphasized repeatedly through these people that He is for me. He orchestrated the intersection of our lives with divine artistry that has shown me what grace feels like.
Now it is my honor to shine the light of Jesus Christ in places where His claims would otherwise not be considered. Although I was surprised and horrified that this happened to me, I cannot claim that I was unprepared. Because I wasn’t – I was 100% prepared for this, the role of my life. He saw to that.
At the same time, I know that no one is strictly necessary for God’s plan. But sometimes He gives us an opportunity to participate in a miracle. That’s what He did for me.