The doctor said it again and again: “She will never ….” And for Chad Veach, hearing this about his 4-month-old daughter, Georgia, was too much. “My heart sank into my socks,” says Veach, pastor of Zoe Church in Los Angeles and author of the new book “Unreasonable Hope.”
The doctor was explaining to Veach and his wife, Julia, that their daughter has lissencephaly, which literally means “smooth brain” and is a rare disorder where the folds and grooves of the brain fail to develop. It can cause severe developmental delays and shortened life span. In Georgia’s case, it would mean severe seizures and reflux problems that stretched feedings into hours-long ordeals.
It took the couple months to come to terms with the diagnosis, and to learn to care for Georgia. “Are Julia and I destined to be simply caretakers? We want to be parents, God, not nurses! This hurts!” Veach recalls praying during their darkest times. Then, during a difficult night of back-to-back seizures, Julia and Chad made a pact not to blame each other if Georgia didn’t make it through the night. Veach says their relationship got better and better after that, but the challenges Georgia faced were just beginning.
Julia left her career as a real estate investor to take over daily care of Georgia. But as Georgia’s condition worsened and her inability to keep food down continued, Julia and Chad reluctantly decided to agree to a feeding tube. This meant feedings would be easier, but didn’t stop Georgia’s regular regurgitation or her frequent seizures. Despite that, Chad found himself grateful following the surgery and decided to share a picture of Georgia recovering in her hospital bed on Instagram with the caption, “Thanks so much, Seattle Children’s. Successful surgery.” He was inundated with calls, texts, likes and support. “God showed himself to us through people,” Veach says.
Soon after, following a sermon Veach delivered at a church in New York City, a total stranger approached him and offered to get a tattoo of the letter “G” as a way to remember Georgia’s plight and to pray for her regularly. Veach was so moved he joined the man, and the “G-tat” was born. Since then, celebrities including Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez, Kevin Durant and Hailey Baldwin have joined the movement. “There’s something about community and faith that makes you stand a little taller and smile in the face of adversity,” Veach says. The G-tat is just one way that Veach has found community through his family’s pain.
Another is his book, released in March by Harper Collins’ Christian publishing arm Thomas Nelson. By interweaving personal stories with Biblical references and sharing the different ways he and his “realist” wife process their circumstances, Veach offers families in similar circumstances practical tips and a blueprint for gaining perspective through community, journaling and developing faith in God. “In isolation your mind goes wild. Find community and seek out help,” he advises.
The book also details heartwarming moments such as the first time Julia and Chad realized Georgia could express emotion. With family in town, the couple was reluctant to take Georgia along to Disneyland, thinking she would get no enjoyment out of it. But during a rest stop at the Animation Studio in California Adventure, they discovered they were wrong. “Georgia lit up,” Veach writes. “I was surprised to see my little girl, who often doesn’t focus on much, looking all around at the screens. She had a giant smile on her face as the music played. She kicked her legs and made noises!” The moment opened Veach up to appreciating even the smallest victories. “I take all the devastation I went through, and it has made me more compassionate, more relatable and more grounded,” he says.
These days, the future is looking brighter for the family. Chad and Julia have added sons Winston, 2, and Maverick, 8 months, to their family, and both boys are healthy. Georgia is expected to live longer than doctors first estimated. Now 4, she has started attending school in Mar Vista, giving Julia time to write a book of her own. Veach compares his wife’s snarky take on the family’s journey with Tina Fey’s “Bossypants.”
Unreasonable Hope is available in stores and online. To find out more about Zoe Church, visit zoechurch.org.