There's nothing quite like that season of romance just as marriage seems to be on the horizon. So many hopes, so many dreams, all bound up in a future yet to unfurl. But sometimes there are trials of faith to be found in that season, too. So today, in honor of Valentine's Day, I'm posting a moving testimony from a young woman who is trusting God for her "pre-fiance" and their future together.
Long-time readers may remember my blog posts last year about a video series titled "Drowning Melville." It was the brainchild of David Altrogge (who played Rudy McWilliams) and Ian Murphy (who played Tom Sanders). Together they wrote, produced, and starred in these hilarious videos. David is a friend and colleague of mine, but I only had the privilege of meeting Ian once. Nevertheless, I pray for him now on a regular basis. Here is Larissa Whiteley's story about Ian:
I met Ian almost two years ago when we were sophomores in college. At first, we both thought each other to be extremely annoying. He was too quick to give his opinion and I acted too much like a tough girl.
But the more time we spent together, the more I was attracted to him. I began discovering that I loved his strong opinions on everything and loved that he could make everyone laugh. I loved that time with him was never boring, that he had a great sense of style, he owned work boots and he listened to jazz music.
Those were just the fun things about Ian. What attracted me the most was his deep love for God and desire to glorify Him. Ian’s faith to me seemed unshakable. He was not afraid to point people to the cross or challenge them in their beliefs. I was not a Christian when we became friends but Ian took such an interest in teaching me about God and the church. I learned more through Ian in our first few months of friendship than I had from anyone else my entire life. Ian and I had many tough conversations where he was pointing out sin in my life, sin that I had been blind to. But he did it in such a way that I knew that glorifying God was his heart’s deepest desire. His question to challenging me was always, “What are you believing about God right now?”
So here is this great guy who was not only daily pointing me to Christ but also embodied everything that I ever wanted in a husband. There was just one problem--I completely denied to everyone and myself that I liked him. I knew that he was waiting to date until he was ready for marriage and in no way did I think that he would ever consider me to be wife material.
Little did I know that Ian was beginning to love the gentler heart that God was cultivating in me along with my sometimes inappropriate ability to stay serious. Ian said he was able to see Christ at work in me and was able to see all that changed in my heart since my salvation, which occurred during the time we were friends. He also claimed that he laughed 97% more when he was with me and said that he’d just be bored without me. After conversations with his parents about dating me, the timing was finally right and on November 30, 2005, he asked me to dinner.
Then began what became more than a year of laughing and growing with my best friend. And throughout that year we realized that we probably shouldn’t try to make it through life without each other.
Around August of this past year when we returned from our summer internships, Ian began having serious conversations with his dad about the logistics of pursuing marriage. He had known for awhile that I was “the one,” and now it was down to the timing. We both were working two jobs to save money, and Ian was working especially hard, as I found out later, so that he could buy me a ring. Our biggest struggle in thinking about marriage was trying to figure out the when it could all happen. In my mind, the first of the year made the most sense since we would both graduate college in December.
September 30 changed all of our plans.
That morning while Ian was on his way to work, he collided head-on with an SUV. He was life-flighted to a Pittsburgh hospital where he immediately went into surgery. For several hours, we didn’t know how severe the accident was or why he was in surgery. But we soon received what seemed to be the worst possible news. Ian had suffered severe head injury. The following 48 hours would determine whether he would live or not.
My life as I knew it was gone.
For the next three days, we were updated on Ian’s numerous injuries and were given more and more discouraging reports on Ian’s condition. We were told that his brain was dying. He was failing three of five brain activity tests. We talked with organ donation people and even contacted the funeral home. Ian was given days or hours to live--we just had to wait. Brain death was imminent.
But our faithful God answered three days of pleading for mercy and healing. Tuesday night his brain began responding and he started to move his arm and leg. Wednesday morning we were told Ian was “over the hump.” Brain death was no longer imminent. God delivered Ian from the valley of death.
It has been four months now since the accident, and Ian is in The Children’s Institute in Pittsburgh, where he participates in several forms of therapy. He is still in a coma. Apart from a miracle, this will continue to be a long and challenging process of recovery. But Ian is alive.
I don’t know the outcome of this. I don’t know if Ian will be the same person when he wakes up, if he wakes up. I don’t know if we can get married. But I do know that God’s strength has kept me here and will continue to keep me here, until he shows me otherwise.
When I look back at the past four months, I can’t believe that we’ve made it. And I can’t even begin to put into words all that God has done for us. I can’t look at this trial without seeing God’s hand in its design and His grace in sustaining us. While it’s not what I would choose for Ian, myself or his family, I believe that God will continue to use this for our good.
Even though I can’t see my future as clearly as I thought I could before, my affection for and devotion to Ian has not changed. Our relationship is now constrained to a hospital room, our dates are now him sleeping through the movie instead of me, and our conversations are more one-sided than ever! But I have never felt like I don’t have a boyfriend or struggled in my thoughts to stay faithful to this relationship. I still stand by the thought that anyone facing this situation would do the same thing. To me it’s easy--it’s just Ian. God has blessed me with a deep love for Ian and he continues to pour out strength so that I can continue through this affliction. And while my role as a girlfriend has changed, I’m still his girlfriend. If I were the one in a coma, Ian would never leave my side either.
More than my affection for him as a boyfriend, though, is my love for him as my best friend and brother in Christ. I have been called to serve Ian. And while I miss serving him in the ways I used to, like making him dinner or being his daily planner, I have been called to pray for him, talk to him, and just be near to him. There’s no place I’d rather be than sitting next to his bed.
Some days are harder than others. Like the days I am keenly aware that I haven’t heard Ian’s voice or laughed with him in four months. And then there are the days where I see that Ian is clearly in pain, but he can’t tell me and he can’t fix it himself. I don’t know where Ian’s mind has been since the accident. I’ve struggled with feeling guilty if I enjoy a big meal or do something fun. Ian’s mom wisely told me once that we must believe that Ian is someplace far better than we can imagine. God has been very gracious in protecting my heart and mind from focusing too much on the pain that Ian is enduring now. In moments that I do think about it though, I must turn to Jesus, knowing that only He knows exactly what pain Ian is feeling and knows exactly what he needs to be comforted.
While God tells us to ask for the desires of our hearts (Psalm 37:4), I’ve often found that my reason for wanting Ian to wake up is so that we can get married and I can have him back. But my motivation in prayer should be for God to be glorified, no matter how that affects my personal life. I am challenged daily to remember that whatever God has for my future and for Ian’s future is good and is exactly what we need, even if it’s not a future together. His love for us has not changed. He has met our greatest need through Jesus dying on the cross for our sins, and anything this side of heaven is a gift of His mercy.
To guard my heart, I’ve found that I cannot try to plan out my future. If I picture Ian and I together and spend hours daydreaming the exact details of our wedding, I am not trusting that whatever God has is best. But if I think about Ian not being in my future, I’m giving up hope that God can completely restore him. I must control my thoughts every day, while continuing to pray that if it’s God’s will, we can spend our lives together.
I’m learning daily that only God can ever satisfy me and ever comfort me. I feel so lonely sometimes without Ian. But if I’m looking away from God, I will always feel lonely, even if Ian comes back. Only God is accessible to me every second of every day. We don’t have to balance schedules to meet or wait until a certain hour to talk. Only God can give me exactly what I need, when I need it. Only God’s word can comfort my soul and can never fail me. While God blesses me with relationships within the church, I have learned that before seeking my friends, I must first bear my heart to God and ask Him to fill me with His grace.
This is definitely a sad time of my life and every morning I must ask God for abundant grace. Ian missed our one-year anniversary, our college graduation, and Christmas. But through God’s strength, we are able to keep pressing on, for this is what God has for us. I cannot do this on my own but God is so faithful--His strength is made perfect in my weakness. (2 Cor. 12:9) Weariness is not an excuse for me to sin. I can often hear Ian’s voice in my head saying, “What are you believing about God right now?” God promises to deliver us, whether it is on earth or in heaven, and I am awaiting that day (Psalm 34:19).
I will continue to pray that God completely restores Ian and brings him home to us. I hope that He is weaving together a beautiful love story for us. But I must respond in submission and believe that whatever God has for me and for Ian is best, because He is my king.
Larissa posts regularly on the blog that the Murphys have created to update all those who are praying for Ian's recovery. If you would also like to pray for Ian and build your faith about how God answers prayers, please visit Ian's blog. Then go love on all those God has put in your life today. No one knows the future except the One who saved us for it.
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