They met in college and fell in love. They talked about getting married, and he started looking for a ring. They dreamed about life together, a life of beauty and joy, raising babies and laughing with friends and growing old.
They did not imagine a car accident. They did not imagine his brain injury. They did not dream about the need for constant care and a wheelchair and fear that food might choke him. They did not plan for this.
Ian and Larissa Murphy tell their story in a short film produced by Citygate Films (whose director, Carolyn McCulley, has written for Her.meneutics) for John Piper's Desiring God website. Ian did not choose his injury, but together he and Larissa chose to get married after the initial years of his recuperation. They chose to bind themselves to one another in front of a host of witnesses and the presence of the Lord. They chose a hard road marked and guided by love.
In the film and in three accompanying blog posts, Larissa speaks and writes about their journey as a couple. She helped care for Ian for four years after his initial accident, and she says that once Ian was able to communicate again, they began discussing marriage. She doesn't offer all the details of their decision, but she makes it clear that she thought and prayed long and hard about this choice:
Marrying Ian meant that I was signing on to things that I don't think I ever would've chosen for myself—working my whole life, having a husband who can't be left alone, managing his caregivers, remembering to get the oil changed, advocating for medical care, balancing checkbooks, and on. The practical costs felt huge, and those didn't even touch on the emotional and spiritual battles that I would face.
But in light of all the practicals, and emotionals, it was so very simple: we love each other. And we love God. And we believe He is a sovereign and loving God who rules all things.
Larissa faced a choice: to let go of the man she loved, or to walk with him down a road of certain suffering. She chose the road of suffering. And she chose the road of love. As her description above attests, Ian's accident left him vulnerable. She chose to be vulnerable with him, and in so doing, she opened herself up to his hurts even as she opened herself up to his heart.
In the video, Larissa speaks about Ian's spiritual leadership. From the outside looking in, most people would see only Ian's disability. Larissa certainly sees the disability, and yet she also sees Ian's ongoing abilities. She differentiates (following John Piper in his book This Momentary Marriage) between primary and secondary things within marriage: "Ian can't do many of the secondary things, like working or making a meal for me. Everything that's primary, though, he can do, which is leading me spiritually. Ian always comes back to the foundational truths of who God is and kind of reels me back in from my emotions." For instance, when Larissa asked Ian if he was tempted to curse God, she writes, "[he] answered easily, 'No, because God has been nothing but good to me.' "
Others looking in on Ian and Larissa's relationship have seen this same dynamic. Larissa writes of the judge who approved their marriage and said, "You two exemplify what love is all about. I believe that marriage will not only benefit you both but our community, and hope that everyone in this city could see your love for one another." Ian's brother Caleb, who spends 40 hours a week with him, also testifies to Ian's spiritual maturity: "So, the best way a husband can serve his wife is by caring for her spiritual condition and seeking her sanctification. This is the most obvious way Ian serves Larissa, and he does it well."
Jesus often turned his disciples' attention to unexpected spiritual leaders, whether children (Matt. 11:25; Matt. 18:2-4), or women (John 4; John 7), or people with disabilities (John 9). Then, as now, disability serves as a magnifying glass that helps us see who God is and who we are as God's creatures. On the one hand, Ian's disability sets him, and his marriage to Larissa, apart from most. But to dismiss it for its otherness would be to overlook the ways in which Ian and Larissa's relationship tells the truth about life and marriage in a broken world. For all of us this side of heaven, love and suffering exist side by side, moments of pure wonder and delight come hand in hand with despair and sorrow—and God's goodness is present in the midst of it all.