Eight Twenty Eight

I’ve been reading the Pray for Ian blog for years now.  The story of the marriage between Ian and Larissa Murphy shot to notoriety after John Piper’s ministry published a small video spotlighting the persevering couple.  Ten months into their college courtship, Ian was in a devastating car crash, resulting in a TBI, a traumatic brain injury.  Larissa stuck by Ian, despite a nearly year-long coma, an extremely slow recovery and Ian only slightly resembling his pre-accident self.

The title Eight Twenty Eight is a nod to the heavily quoted Bible verse, their wedding anniversary and the birthday of Ian’s father who died of a brain tumor less than 3 years after his son’s accident.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book ever since I read on the blog that a book deal had been signed.  I finished the book last week with mild disappointment and I came away feeling a little differently about their story.

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When I began reading their blog, probably in 2011, I was so moved by Larissa’s unwavering devotion to Ian despite so few tangible benefits.  I related because I once loved a man who, for a time, was restricted in how he could show his love for me.  I related to Larissa’s belief that she was called to be Ian’s wife, despite the obstacles.  There was a time in my life when I believed I was called by God to be a wife to a man who could not protect or provide for me in the traditional sense.  I now think differently about that.  I now think I was wrong.

When someone reads a book, or takes in any form of media, we filter the content thru our own personal lens and form an opinion or feeling about the media because of the way we perceive it.

These are my perceptions.

During much of the book, it was apparent to me that Larissa exalted Ian as a god in her life.  No, it’s not that Larissa confused Ian with the one-true Almighty God, but she exalted Ian as a god by revolving her life around him and making decisions based solely on her devotion to him.

page 86… “I passed on a job offer from an ad agency in Pittsburgh…because if [Ian] went home and my work held me in the city, it would be too far.  I wasn’t ready to be away from Ian.  My community had shrunk to whomever lived at the Murphys at the time and my boyfriend lying in a hospital bed.  Friendships were hard to work on because I wasn’t home that much.  And when I was, I was thinking about how I wanted to be with Ian.  So I did my best, but I know that I neglected and pushed away.  I couldn’t help it.  I thought the man in the wheelchair in Pittsburgh was the one who needed me the most, and I just didn’t have it in me to put forth the work and initiation that friendships require.”

This quote makes me reflect on a time in my life when decision by decision I allowed one relationship to trump all others.  The part in her statement that concerns me the most is: My community had shrunk…  I made that mistake too.  I came up against adversity because of my relationship with Jeff.  Lots thought that I was making a big mistake or things were going too fast.  Both were true.  When the adversity persists, you start to be more selective with who you spend time around, until the nay-sayers are crowded out.  Sometimes you push away the people you need the most.  People who can help bring balance to your life.  But you know what I think?  I think falling in love doesn’t have much to do with balance.  You’ve lost your balance and now you’re f-a-l-l-i-n-g…into love.  And whoa baby, it’s hard to see the red flags when you’ve got those rose-tinted glasses on.

This might be the perfect spot to interject a YouTube video which I believe contains a lot of wisdom.  This is Jefferson Bethke {and his hands… HA! Try not to get distracted by all his hand movements} and his wife, Alyssa.

page 89… “When someone told me I needed to keep moving on with my life, that I couldn’t just wait around for Ian, or the time when someone told me I was wasting my life where I was, sitting at my boyfriend’s side, when I had so much more potential than that, all they did was make me dig my feet into the cold tile floors of that hospital even further.  Whatever this potential was or whatever I was missing in my life while waiting around with Ian – it all fell on deaf ears.  I couldn’t leave him, didn’t want to leave him, because he was my best friend.”

I did this too.  Dug my heels in.  I clung to promises I read in God’s Word despite a lack of peace in my heart.

page 117… “I stayed up too late on most days, just because I wanted to say good night to him.  He would shower and stretch at night, which meant that sometimes I couldn’t go in his room.  All I could see of Ian was the closed, locked barrier of his bedroom door.  For years, this stirred something ugly inside of me.  Something about the closed door made me feel so angry and useless.  When that door was shut and locked, it meant something was happening in the room that I couldn’t be a part of because I wasn’t Ian’s wife.”

Now this part of her story really concerned me.  I picked up on the word angry and in my experience, (with the exception of ‘righteous anger’), other forms of anger are commonly rooted in fear.  What was she afraid of?  Afraid that her role in Ian’s life was erasable or replaceable?  By now in the book, she had already recounted the fear that he would remember everyone but her, since he had a lifetime of memories with his family but only ten months worth of memories with her.  I know for me, while my courtship with Jeff was largely unapproved of, once we married, it was as if our union, our covenant, gave legitimacy to our relationship that people respected.  I went from being the girl dating a guy “way beneath her” to a loyal, persevering wife who’s faith in God and in her husband was admirable.  Maybe Larissa’s desire for marriage was rooted in insecurity?

page 119… “People still worried about me… ‘You need something to keep you going,’ Steve said to me one day as he leaned against the kitchen countertop.  His comment stung.  It sounded degrading to me, because the words he chose – ‘You don’t have anything’ – made me feel as though I had nothing to be living for outside of an improved Ian.”

This is interesting because Steve is Ian’s father.  I think this quote reveals deep concerns people had for Larissa.  Instead of life going on for her and Ian being one dimension of life, Ian was her life and life had slowed to match the pace of Ian’s healing.  Larissa went on to say that at the time of Steve’s death, his biggest concern was what was going to happen to them.  She writes that he didn’t want things hanging in limbo any longer.  They should either marry or break up.  I didn’t include any quotes about this, because I’m not attempting a comprehensive book review here, but Larissa was a baby, baby Christian when she met Ian and Ian was the first person to really disciple her.  Perhaps she was unsure of how to grow in The Lord without Ian there to guide her?

page 206… “My dad was standing with me at the top of the hill.  He held my hand as we stepped down the hill towards our families and friends and toward Ian.  Dad squeezed my hand and fought back tears as we caught sight of him, standing there with the help of his best friend.  Wrapping his arms around me into a kiss, my dad left me at the altar with a man he knew couldn’t take care of me the way my dad wanted him to but hoped this was what his daughter really, truly, wanted.”

I’m reading between the lines…perhaps taking too much liberty: This man fears his daughter is settling and might have regrets later on.

Does any bride fully realize what she’s committing to?

“We said our promises by candlelight… You held my hands, I was dressed in white, we were young… How can we see that far?  I knew I wanted you like no one else… I’d told my Mama that I’d found myself in your eyes… How can we see that far?  But like your daddy said, the same sun that melts the wax can harden clay and the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay and the mighty wind that knocks us down, if we lean into it, will drive our fears away.  We might die.  We might live.  We could hurt each other badly, do things, things so hard to forgive.  And if time is not our friend, your mind might forget me before the end.  And oh, I cannot, I cannot look that far.” 

~ How Can We See That Far? ~ Amy Grant 1991 ~

page 220… “At the lake is healing, because we are all together and we are loved, despite the messiness of the past twelve months.  Inside that little cocoon, we rest – and Ian rests – because in this cocoon, no one is telling him that he has no value, and no one is telling me that I shouldn’t have married someone with no value.”

 I want to be clear that I am not at all implying that Ian Murphy has no value.  I believe all life is precious, at all stages and conditions of life.  My heart hurts that they must seek respite from statements as cruel as that.

When I read this book, I saw some parallels to my life and to past decisions I made regarding dating and ultimately marrying Jeff.  I fell in love and was swept off my feet as if in a whirlwind.  Our relationship encountered adversity and criticism which made me cling even tighter to him.  I exalted my relationship with him above other people and even can remember praying, “Lord, please let me have him.  Please let him be the one.”  (I was tight fisted, as Alyssa Bethke described.)  I thought I was doing right to choose a man and a relationship with a more difficult path believing that it was God’s way of developing holiness and perseverance in me.  Now I look back and see that many of my choices were rooted in fear and insecurity.

And that is the biggest difference between the video of their story and this book: Larissa’s fear.  At times, her insecure desperation to cling to Ian made me wince.

And even though my marriage ended in divorce, and even though Ian and Larissa are enduring, by God’s infinite grace and mercy, He is redeeming our experiences and healing us.

I no longer believe the man and marriage I chose was my calling or God’s perfect will for my life but I cannot fully express my gratitude that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. ~ Romans 8:28 ESV

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