Summer 2022
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‘Nothing was going to stop me’

stories of Faith, Grit and Joy

Annika Pears

By Rachel Brumfield There’s something that happens on your deathbed – a clarity about what’s important in life and the things you want to accomplish.

Take it from Annika Pears, a graduate of the George Fox Adult Degree Program. In 2015, she was hospitalized with a severe stroke that changed the course of her life.

Pears was 11 weeks pregnant with her second child and living in Kansas, where her husband was stationed in the military. They were just months away from a dream they’d invested hours of time and most of their savings in – opening a coffee shop together.

Then, in an instant, it was all wiped away.

“I remember looking at the MRI and the entire left side of my brain was just completely black,” Pears recalls. “It was just dead. I had to start from the very beginning. Our life literally took a 90 degree turn.”

It took weeks for her memory to start to come back. She had to relearn how to recall certain words, manage her emotions and navigate daily life. Eventually, stroke rehabilitation brought the Pears back to Oregon to be closer to family support. There were numerous appointments and therapies, not to mention a 3-year-old and a newborn to care for.

“The first time I said my ABCs, I was so slow. It was like pulling them from the very recesses of my brain,” Pears says. “My emotional center was wiped out, so I was basically a 2-year-old in terms of my emotions. Once you realize what you’ve lost, you can’t imagine that anything is going to get better. The stroke wiped the slate clean, but it also broke me down to this point where I had to build back up.”

An important step in her journey to healing came through helping others who had suffered a similar fate. When a friend’s mom had a stroke, Pears quickly offered to meet with her. Then, through another friend, she was connected with a pastor who had suffered two strokes and lost the ability to speak.

“There’s something about connecting with someone who’s on the other side of it,” she says. “I know what it’s like to be trapped in your mind and how frustrating it is to not be able to get words out.

“Through these two scenarios, I realized, ‘Wow, I have a story that can actually really help people. So why wouldn’t I?’”

As she began to come to terms with her stroke, Pears made an important promise to herself: to go back to school and get her bachelor’s degree.

“You realize that you don’t want anything to hold you back,” she says. “I could either let this stroke completely stop me, or I could become the best version of myself. I decided my two daughters, my husband – and really myself – deserve nothing less than who I knew I was supposed to be. I knew I was supposed to finish my degree. Nothing was going to stop me.”

As a teenager, Pears hadn’t considered herself qualified to pursue college.

“College was always something I really wanted to do, but like a lot of people I didn’t think I could do it,” she recalls. “I didn’t think I was smart enough. A lot of my friends were really smart, and I didn’t see myself that way. Now I know that’s a lie.

“It was a process to overcome these lies I’ve been telling myself for years. They were embedded and entrenched. I think the stroke helped, because I had to rewire my brain.”

Part of stroke recovery is helping the brain make new connections to circumvent pathways that were damaged – a process called neuroplasticity, or “rewiring the brain.” A close friend encouraged Pears to see rehabilitation as a way to “rewire her brain for God’s truth.”

“It doesn’t matter what anybody thinks. You’ve got to do what God is asking you to do,” Pears says. “I don’t want my girls to think that anything can hold them back – that they’re not good enough or smart enough. I want them to know that they can do it.”

In 2020, Pears enrolled in the Adult Degree Program to pursue a bachelor’s degree in social and behavioral studies. Like many adults who return to school, it was a daunting experience – but for Pears, even more obstacles stood in her way.

“I had no idea everything that 2020 would hold,” she says. “Literally, I was diagnosed with cancer, we opened a new business, and there was a pandemic. I also had two kids at home, so I was trying to figure out Zoom and homeschooling, too.”

For the next 16 months, Pears persevered through surgery, brain fog from radiation, schedule changes due to the pandemic, and the demands of parenting two kids with schools shut down – all while completing presentations and assignments for her program.

“The Lord uses all of these things to continue to heal my mind – to push me, even when I don’t want to push myself,” she says. “Getting my degree showed me that I was always worth it. God used George Fox to instill that belief in me.”

In April of 2021, despite all the obstacles, Pears graduated with her bachelor’s degree.

“I want it to be a stake-in-the-ground moment for my girls,” she says, “so they can look back and think, ‘My mom finished her degree, and she did it when it was so hard. How can I let anything stop me?’”

Pears firmly believes that God guided her steps and brought her to this place for a reason. “I did this with the Lord. He led me, and I did it – with a stroke brain, in the middle of a pandemic, with wildfires and an ice storm, while homeschooling two kids and helping launch our new coffee business.

“I feel so much more capable now. Nothing can stop me from the places that I know the Lord wants to take me. It’s a belief that has taken root so deep inside – I know that I’m capable of whatever I want to do next.”

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