Nine years after suffering irreversible brain damage in a tragic car accident, Ian Murphy is not physically the same man that his college sweetheart, Larissa, fell in love with.
Despite the odds, the devoutly Christian couple chose true love over comfort, with them recently celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary. They will share their powerful testimony of love, heartbreak and the power of faith on Oprah Winfrey's new "Belief" series. But before the airing of the show, the couple shared their story with The Christian Post.
Ian and Larissa were just like any other ordinary college students upon meeting in the spring of 2005 — young, full of life and intent on achieving their "happily ever after." But less than a year into dating, tragedy struck and a near-fatal car accident would leave Ian paralyzed and suffering from a traumatic brain injury.
Prior to the devastating accident, the Pennsylvania couple had made plans to get married immediately after college, and Ian had even been searching for the perfect ring, but fate would temporarily halt their wedding dreams. In a recent interview with CP, Larissa shared how watching Ian spend months in a coma and struggle with brain damage initially had her questioning God and why He allows pain and suffering in the world.
"I was a very new believer … I had to learn quickly, I felt like I was kind of fast-tracked into having to grapple through 'what is God's purpose of suffering?'" she told CP.
Larissa admitted that in the beginning, there were times when she doubted her relationship with Ian, who at that time was no longer the active and independent young man she met in college. He is now paralyzed and to walk and talk without assistance.
"I don't remember having long seasons of doubt, but even now I have constant guilt because I always feel like I should be doing something more for Ian," she shared. "I struggle with, 'OK, God put us here and we aren't capable, but He is in us and He strengthens us.' That's still something I constantly have to work through."
Ian finally woke up after months of being in a comatose state, although it took him two and a half years to regain his speech. He and Larissa vowed to continue loving one another and they eventually fulfilled their prior commitment to wed four years after the accident. They detailed their ordeal in a 2014 book, Eight Twenty Eight: When Love Didn't Give Up.
"I just love the way he loves me. ... If we're together he's happy," she said. "He constantly teaches me what love should look like and is always kind to me and wants what's best for me."
She added: "I didn't fall out of love with him and I didn't stop loving him. I knew he wouldn't leave me if the role were reversed."
In a previous interview with CP, Larissa credited faith for keeping them together after the accident.
"This probably sounds really cheesy, but I just love him and he's my best friend. It goes without saying that we have a belief in God that is bigger than us. I know we're fine because God is holding us," she said.
The couple lives a quiet and content life together in Western Pennsylvania, and Larissa shared their hopes that their story will inspire others. Ian and Larissa are among several compelling stories that will be featured on Winfrey's new interfaith series "Belief."
"We want people in similar situations to know that they aren't alone and there is a good God," she said. "Jesus is the way to have eternal life — you can live through [tough] situations with hope that there is something after this."
Winfrey, who speaks openly about her faith and experience with God, described Ian and Larissa's story as "remarkable" and said the couple represents the "bravest kind of love there is."
"I think Ian and Larissa's story is one of the most remarkable, notable stories about love I've heard about over the years," Winfrey said via a conference call on Monday. "… Her decision to marry him in spite of the fact that he was paralyzed … to me they represent the bravest kind of love, the purest kind of love there is. ... So when a person is committed even before you've said your vows of 'through sickness and health," [that's] pretty amazing."
On Oct. 18, Winfrey will premiere the seven-night OWN television event "Belief," an interfaith program that claims to examine "humankind's ongoing search to connect with something greater than ourselves."
David Shadrack Smith, who is one of the show's executive producers, said the goal is to use religion as a tool that unites people instead of dividing them.
"We set out with a very ambitious idea of trying to look at what unites us [and] look beyond what divides us when it comes to belief and faith and religion," Smith told CP. "We focused a lot on the practice of belief, how people of all different faiths activate and animate their beliefs through their practices … underlying what we're all seeking is this burning universal human question of 'why am I here,' 'who am I,' 'what's the meaning and purpose of my life?'"
Winfrey shared that working on "Belief" over the past three years has enabled her to fulfill her true calling, which she believes is to unite people across the globe.
"I wanted ['Belief'] to be a tool to actually help connect people, that is my real true role in the world," said the former talkshow host. "My calling is to share ideas through storytelling that reflect the human spirit and allow people to see themselves in those stories …"
The week-long "Belief" series premieres this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on OWN.
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