Ian Murphy sits quietly on the living room couch watching his wife Larissa dip a tea bag in and out of an oversize mug. He loves mornings for one reason: It’s when Larissa is most talkative, and he feels closest to her when they are immersed in conversation. She takes a warm sip then snuggles in next to Ian, resting one hand on the back of his head, her fingers running through his short brown hair. “Ian is so kind to me. He always wants to be with me and always chooses me,” Larissa says.
Ian and Larissa were 20-year-old college students when they met in 2005. Ian was goofy, smart, creative and tender, and it didn’t take long for Larissa to fall for him. The strength of his faith propelled her forward in her growing relationship with Jesus. “Something was shifting in my heart toward God. Things that I had known in my head were starting to take root in my heart,” she says, recalling those early times together.
On this cool autumn day, they decide to spend their Saturday morning outside on the veranda of their west Pennsylvania home. Larissa sets down her tea and uses her strength to help Ian stand. He takes slow, deliberate steps while Larissa steadies and guides him toward the door. Each time he puts one foot in front of the other, they both breathe prayers of thankfulness. His steps are testimony of God’s healing power.
Ian and Larissa demonstrate God’s selfless agape love and they have grown to understand the depth of the Apostle Paul’s inspired words: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” Nine years ago, as they neared engagement, life as they knew it evaporated and all seemed lost. On September 30, 2006, Ian’s station wagon slammed underneath an oncoming SUV.
Covered in blood-soaked bandages, Ian lay motionless in a hospital bed. Along with his parents, Steve and Mary, Larissa grasped for understanding as medical staff explained the grim diagnosis. Ian had fractured neck vertebra and a broken arm and leg. He was held captive in a deep coma, caused by a severe brain injury. Larissa prayed that God would heal the body and restore the mind of the man she loved. Ian was not responding, and doctors gave his parents the brutal decision of whether or not to keep their son on life support. Believing in the sovereignty of God and incapable of choosing death for Ian, they chose life through support.
Days turned into weeks then months, as the Murphy family and Larissa waited bedside. Finally, life and hope and response breathed into Ian’s brain. His right eye began responding sluggishly to light and his body made subtle jerks. Sitting beside Ian in the stale hospital room, Larissa listened to the steady beep of his heart monitor. She carefully reached out her hand and intertwined her fingers in his, then said, “Ian.” His heart rate quickened on the monitor. Larissa looked at the monitor readout, then called Steve and Mary into the room. Talking with Ian, they watched in awe as his numbers went up and down in response to their voices. “His heart rate was 126, and that was when he was talking to me,” Larissa says. Her voice broke through the cloud of Ian’s coma, and the physical cue was God’s way of showing Larissa that Ian was fighting for her.
Eventually, Ian was stable enough to move back into his family home, and there his recovery flourished. Although wheelchair-bound and without speech, he was able to start eating and drinking without a feeding tube, respond to questions with blinks meaning yes or no and lift his arm to embrace in a hug. Instead of medical staff helping Ian shower or emptying his catheter bag, Ian’s parents and caregivers assisted him. Larissa longed to care for Ian in the tangible ways others did, but because they weren’t married, she couldn’t. So she talked to him, and Ian experienced healing with every spoken word.
Larissa’s continual presence gave Ian the strength he needed to fight through his new disabilities and motivated him to keep trying. Ian’s physical therapist worked for a very long time to get Ian to lift his hand off the bed and reach for something. Weary because he wasn’t responding, she asked Larissa to help. “I asked Ian to hold my hand and he immediately reached out to me,” Larissa says.
Just over a year after his accident, Ian said, “Eee un,” and the new, raspy voice changed everything. Once he was able to form words, it became more and more evident that Ian’s mind was completely intact and he would be able to communicate. His words renewed Larissa’s hope. “I knew if Ian could communicate with me, we could have a marriage,” she says.
Ian’s dad, Steve, began talking with the couple privately, expressing his desire to see them make a decision to separate or marry. “He didn’t want to watch us stay in the limbo of dating,” Larissa says. When Steve was diagnosed with brain cancer, he used his last six weeks of life to counsel his family. Steve passed away October 8, 2009. His guidance propelled the couple to move forward, and that Christmas Ian asked Larissa to marry him.
In the four years leading up to their wedding day, Larissa admits she grieved for herself and her own loss more than for Ian’s. On August 28, 2010, that shifted. When Larissa said, “I do,” she became one with Ian, in a sense choosing to become disabled alongside her husband. “We were stepping into life together,” Larissa says. From that moment on, every high and low would be encountered together. It’s a decision she’s never regretted. Regardless of the challenging circumstances, Ian and Larissa are best friends and confidants, and daily they thank God for each other. They are also aware that other couples in the same situation might make another choice.
“We would advise anyone in this position to be realistic in their evaluation of the cost of the decision, be in close counsel with their pastors and to be fellowshipping with people who can help them see God’s bigger picture and authority,” she says. “At the end of the day, both individuals need to have peace and confidence—despite fears that may come and go—that this is what God has laid out for them. Then make that decision in faith. Ian’s dad so thoughtfully told us that in 10, 20, 30 years we needed to be able to look back at our decision and know that we had made it in faith.”
Over time, Larissa has gathered a team to help Ian. While Larissa is at work on weekdays, a full-time caregiver stays with Ian to help with daily tasks and care. Ian works diligently with an occupational therapist to relearn skills like buttoning a shirt and feeding himself. The process is long and painstaking, but he is improving. Ian attributes his extraordinary healing to God and to people loving him. The Lord gives him strength to look beyond his disability and have gratitude for the life he has been given. “He’s awesome,” Ian says.
Ian’s favorite rehabilitation takes place on Thursdays at his kitchen table. A friend arrives, carrying watercolors and worn brushes. She sets up an easel and a blank canvas. As Ian grips a brush and carefully reaches his arm forward to paint a stroke of watercolor on canvas, the color gives life to what he wants to share with the world.
In 2014, Ian boldly declared that he wanted to walk before turning 30. He announced his “Walk by 30” goal on the couple’s blog, and people all over the world responded with encouragement and prayers. Ian worked tirelessly to gain the strength and confidence needed to meet his goal. On January 6, 2015, three months before his birthday, Ian took six steps across the living room floor. Larissa used a video camera to capture the sight of her husband walking by himself for the first time since the car accident. When Ian finished his triumphant stride, Larissa ran to him and wrapped her arms around him. Through tears of joy, they both celebrated. “Walking means the world to me,” Ian says.
Back home on their veranda, Larissa sits on the armrest of Ian’s cushioned wood chair. She enjoys being close to her husband. She kisses his forehead and his face lights up in a smile. The familiar environment and lack of distractions clear Ian’s mind and allow him to communicate with focus and clarity. Conversation has been at the root of his relationship with Larissa since the beginning. In His mercy, God allows their marriage to thrive in the simple beauty of a husband and wife talking.
As they delight in one another, the difficulties of this present life give way to hope in the One who holds them together. “I see God more clearly when I’m having conversations with you,” Ian tells Larissa. Ian’s words are a reminder that God works when His people choose to love.
As part of Ian Murphy’s therapy, he has been painting for a few years. His watercolors are bold, colorful and filled with sailboats, lakes and other beautiful imagery. Copies for framing are available at Ian’s shop on their Etsy website. Proceeds go toward his therapy costs.
By the Lake
Two people stroll beside a lake. Who could they be? Perhaps they are Ian and Larissa, who happen to live beside a lake.
In the water, in the Garden
Over time, the imagery in Ian’s art has gained clarity, as can be seen in the sailboat and flowers, above center and above right. But when he first began painting as therapy, Ian’s work looked to most people like random smudges of color. Looking back, Larissa writes that Ian was “creating his memory and giving it life” through watercolors.
Ian and Larissa Murphy wrote a book entitled Eight Twenty Eight. Named after their life verse (Romans 8:28), their wedding date and Ian’s father’s birth date, the book chronicles the couple’s love story. Writing forced Larissa to relive some difficult moments and address a lot of grief, but ultimately God brought healing through the process. She hopes the book will do the same for others. “We would love for someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God to read it and think, ‘That’s a God I want to know intimately.’” Ian and Larissa also hope the book will help people in similar situations to understand that they are not alone.