August 29, 2014

‘Tested in fire’: Challenges deepen young couple’s bond of marriage and relationship with God

For Leron and Hannah Giesting, the early years of their marriage have been tested by unexpected, serious health concerns. Here, the Batesville farming couple poses for a family photo with their three daughters, Felicity, left, Nalley and Siena. (Submitted photo)

For Leron and Hannah Giesting, the early years of their marriage have been tested by unexpected, serious health concerns. Here, the Batesville farming couple poses for a family photo with their three daughters, Felicity, left, Nalley and Siena. (Submitted photo)

(Editor’s note: Marriage has become an even greater focus in the Church and the archdiocese this year. Noting that marriage and the family are “in crisis,” Pope Francis will lead a meeting of the Synod of Bishops on the issue in October. And Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin has made it an archdiocesan goal to “strengthen marriage and family life.” With that greater focus in mind, The Criterion has been sharing a continuing series on marriage. This week, our story focuses on a young couple and the challenges that tested their marriage.)

By John Shaughnessy

Overwhelmed with fear, Hannah Giesting silently pleaded to God, “Please let him be alright. Please don’t take him from me. Please let him see her grow up.”

Married less than a year at the time, Hannah made her prayer as she sat next to her sick husband, Leron, in a doctor’s office while she held their newborn daughter.

She could feel her worry in every part of her body.

“Eyes closed to stop the tears,” she recalls. “Ears plugged to drown out the deafening ‘what ifs’ surrounding mysterious and very negative physical symptoms. Hands clutched so tightly your knuckles are white.”

Then she listened as the doctor mentioned that Leron could have stomach cancer. The feeling of panic intensified.

“I was afraid that my husband was going to die. I was afraid that I would never see him again.”

Like most young couples, Hannah and Leron never expected that this situation could be happening to them.

Members of St. Louis Parish in Batesville, they never expected that their marriage and their faith would be “tested in fire” so early.

Looking forward to a long life together

When Hannah and Leron were married on Sept. 19, 2009, she couldn’t have been more excited. She knew she was marrying her best friend and looking forward to a long lifetime together.

She could see their future before them as they left St. Alphonsus Ligouri Church in Zionsville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese.

“I envisioned health and happiness coupled with life as a young family,” she says. “We both wanted children and were open to them from day one of our marriage.”

They came from different backgrounds: Hannah, the daughter of an attorney; Leron, the son of a farmer. They first saw something special in each other in 2007 when Leron was the best man at the wedding of Hannah’s sister, Laura, and Hannah was the maid of honor.

When they soon started dating, they didn’t have usual dates of dinner or a movie together. The dates often began at Leron’s parents’ family farm near Batesville.

“A lot of our dates would be spent baling hay and feeding the cows before we got to spend time with each other,” Hannah recalls. With a laugh, she adds, “He said he had to make sure I could be a farm wife before he could marry me.”

Leron also appreciated that Hannah is a good listener, makes plans and has a “light-up-the-room” smile. As for Hannah, she saw what she was looking for in a husband in Leron.

“He’s a very faithful man, and he made me grow closer to God,” she says. “He made me a better person by being around him. That’s how I knew he was the one.”

Hannah’s vision for their future seemed to be unfolding according to plan when she was eight months pregnant in July of 2010. They were happy and looking forward to the birth of their first child. Then Leron suddenly became sick and lost about 40 pounds.

“He had no energy. He could hardly eat without getting sick,” she recalls. “The day I went into labor, he was actually scheduled for tests. Our daughter was 3 weeks old when we were in the doctor’s office. I can remember the doctor coming in and saying it could be stomach cancer.”

A future of hopes, plans and dreams turned into “some very dark days.”

Finding faith amid the fear

One of the few pieces of good news for the couple during those dark days was that Leron didn’t have stomach cancer.

Instead, he was initially diagnosed with a condition in which bacteria had infected his large intestine so extensively that his body couldn’t function normally. Still, even after antibiotics took care of that condition, Leron struggled with other health issues that left him without energy and strength.

Medical tests and visits with different specialists continued for about 2 1/2 years without any significant change for Leron.

“Nothing could have prepared me for the trials we would face in those years,” Hannah says. “I was motivated by fear. I fell back on my faith to show me the way out of this painful situation. I knew that if he died, the only way I would see him again is if we both made it to heaven.

“My prayer life grew stronger. I began to read more books on theology. My husband started a prayer routine that included reading the daily [Mass] readings from Magnificat. We started going to [weekday] Mass once a week. We added monthly confessions to our routine, as well as a weekly family visit to our parish’s perpetual adoration chapel.”

In the midst of this deeper connection to God and their faith, another doctor offered a new diagnosis of Leron and a measure of hope.

The gift of joy

The doctor seemed to discover the root cause of Leron’s health concerns.

“Basically, his digestive system doesn’t work like it should, and undigested food gets into his bloodstream and causes an immune system reaction,” Hannah explains. “We are now in the process of building up his good bacteria and watching very carefully what he eats. He has started to gain weight again and has a much better outlook on life.

“Seeing your best friend come back to life is wonderful and a great gift.”

Her joy shows as she talks about Leron regaining his strength to work the family farm of corn and soybeans near Batesville.

And that feeling radiates even more as she mentions how she loves seeing her husband have the energy to give their three daughters piggy-back rides.

“Joy” is also the word that 30-year-old Leron uses to describe the life that he and Hannah, 28, have created with their children: Nalley Jane, 4, Felicity Lynn, 3, and Siena Cate, 1. He also uses the word to describe his faith.

“Humanity teaches us that happiness comes from feeling good, and that feeling good is the most important thing,” Leron says. “I learned that there is a huge difference between happiness and joy. In fact, one day I was feeling particularly bad, and I was lying in bed, and all I could do was pray. I was given the gift of joy that day. In spite of how terrible I felt, I was totally joyful.

“God showed me that joy is his gift, and if we share in his suffering, we share in his joy and his peace. I mention peace because I came to accept that day that I was sick, and I didn’t know when or how or even if I would ever get better. As I reflect on the last few years, there were so many moments when I see clearly that God was there carrying me, holding me, and showing me to love.”

Tested in fire

Hannah and Leron will celebrate their five-year wedding anniversary on Sept. 19.

They have learned to celebrate their love every day.

“In my darkest moments, Hannah was there,” Leron says. “In my triumphs, Hannah was there. She showed me that even though we were both scared, that being scared together was better than being apart. Hannah put everything on the back burner except me. She showed me that love is an action. I grow more in love with Hannah as I think about all she has done for me.

“When we were both made weak through this, we had no choice but to lean on each other. Most importantly, we learned to lean on God and the sacraments. We were reminded that no matter what our lives look like, we always have hope.

“As I see Hannah grow in her faith, I am encouraged to grow with her, to grow for her. I used to be very proud and didn’t want anyone to do anything for me. In my weakness, I had to let Hannah do things for me. I learned even more how to love and how to be loved.”

That growth has also been mirrored in their shared faith life. They are involved in their parish’s youth group, faith formation commission and Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.

It’s all part of an eventful five years of marriage.

“It would be easy to assume that five years of marriage with four years of sickness and three beautiful daughters would result in two strained spouses and one distraught wife,” Hannah says. “But after five years together, we still have that newlywed glow.”

Their faith also has the shine and the strength of “gold that is tested in fire,” she says.

“In the past five years, I had to put my trust in God. Forced into a corner, I saw how he will see us through anything. When we started out, we had a good foundation in our relationship with God. It was probably six inches of a foundation. Now, it’s like six feet. It’s real good, real solid.

“We knew if we had faith and continued on the path God set us on, we would succeed in the end. It has been quite a journey that is far from over. My husband has said he would like to be married for 75 years. I am not sure that is realistic, but I want to give it a try.” †


Related: How has faith helped your marriage? We want to know

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