Julie Owen Morris, PhD, is a follower of Christ, author, speech-language pathologist, adjunct professor, and lupus warrior. She earned her PhD from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and lives with her husband, Chad, and daughters, Addie and Makenna. She has suffered with six autoimmune diseases for nearly two decades. A few years ago, Julie felt a nudge to begin writing devotionals for others with chronic illness. Those devotionals have been compiled into this book to provide hope, through Jesus, to others who suffer daily.
When I first started Chronically in Christ, I was impressed by the message of finding a way to thrive rather than just survive for people who struggle with chronic illness. This message feels one of intense hope without dismissing one’s daily hardships. How did you come to write your new book and what is your hope for how Chronically in Christ might impact readers?
I felt a nudge to write this book during my quiet times with God. This nudge became stronger as I received monthly treatments at infusion labs for over four years. The people there were so sick, some much worse than I was. At times, I couldn’t see any hope in their eyes. I kept thinking, “How does anyone do this without Christ?” My hope is that others with chronic illness may receive a bit of hope and encouragement in my words, and that the Bible passages and prayers may draw them into or further along in their faith. I also pray the personal stories I share will help them realize that they are not alone in their suffering. There are others who understand, and there are others who care.
Many of your chapters begin with a very relevant bible quotation, many of which I
was unfamiliar with and happily moved by when I read them. Can you talk a little
about the structure of your book? Why did you put it together the way you did and
how did you decide what quotations to use at the beginning of each section?
The Bible quotations flowed out of my daily Bible reading. When reading through the Bible, sometimes a verse or passage just struck me in a healing, hopeful way, and I then thought of how it related to my life, particularly my life with illness. In sharing these verses, paired with my thoughts and stories, I hope to provide some encouragement to others who suffer.
What does the writing process mean to you? What was the most meaningful or
surprising experience you had in the writing of Chronically in Christ?
Writing often puts me in a state of flow, in which the world falls away. One meaningful, yet scary, experience was the writing of the Introduction, which is my own story. As an introvert, it was frightening to share my personal story with the world, but I felt it was important to be vulnerable so that others could (hopefully) benefit. A surprising experience was how sometimes I would think about a certain Scripture for a few days and how it related to my life, and then those verses would pop up in other places, like books or Bible studies, etc. It sometimes seemed like I was surrounded by that particularly Scripture, and I just had to write about it.
One of the most poignant themes to me was how not only health effects someone, but so do the feelings of guilt, disappointment, etc. for not being able to do something, be a specific someone, and even the opposite, feeling guilt during the better days. How can we, as a people of faith, give ourselves grace during these difficult times? And how can we encourage someone without invalidating their pain?
Yes, there is a lot of guilt when you’re chronically ill and unable to be the person you think you should (and used to) be. You feel as though you are letting down yourself and your loved ones, especially your children. It seems crazy to have to forgive yourself for being sick, but that’s exactly what I’ve had to do. As a person who daily benefits from God’s grace, I’m learning to give myself more compassion and grace, and let go of what I wanted life to be.
A delicate balance is necessary to encourage those who are ill. We never want to minimize their pain or difficulties at all, but we want to encourage them to explore any positive aspects of their life, and see if joy and gratitude is available to them, despite their circumstances. At times, chronically ill people can even find some meaning from years of pain. For me, that meaning comes in helping others. Since I have experienced chronic illness, I can better understand it when people come to me with similar stories. Paul said, “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he
brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (2 Corinthians 1:4 MSG) God has helped me through nearly two decades of illness, and now I try to help others.
In some chapters you mention the COVID-19 pandemic happening simultaneously.
Have you felt any differences between then and now in the understanding of chronic
illness both in the church and society? Where is there work still to be done?
That’s a wonderful question! With the onset of COVID-19, people became more aware of those with suppressed immune systems, like me, because it was on the news constantly. Most people were unaware prior to COVID that people with poor immune systems have to be very careful through regular flu seasons, because these diseases can turn deadly. The other educational piece in COVID is the information on long-COVID and “brain fog.” This symptom is common with autoimmune disease, particularly lupus, and this has increased some awareness. Unfortunately, long-COVID adds to the increased levels of chronic illness in our society.
There is much more work to be done. Chronic diseases (of all types) affect half of Americans, yet we need more healthcare availability, healthcare education and resources, research to discover treatments without damaging side effects, and compassionate support. People with chronic illness need to feel that they are valued by society, rather than cast aside as damaged goods. They have a lot to offer, but may not always be able to tolerate 40+ hour work-weeks like healthy individuals. The church can help by becoming more aware of members who need to be careful in crowds, because of their poor immune
systems. They can also support them in other ways, when those people can’t attend church in person. The fact that most churches have continued virtual services is really helpful to this population.
One of the most encouraging messages I felt was in the power of seeking a “real friendship” with Jesus and the journey to find out who he is for ourselves. How did you come to find such a meaningful perspective and what power does such a message have for those struggling with and without chronic illness?
I’m glad you mentioned finding Jesus for ourselves. I think you should never let anyone tell you who God or Jesus is. Instead, you should discover for yourself what you believe. This journey is different for others, but, for me, it includes setting aside intentional time each day to spend with Jesus. I first submit to him each day, acknowledging my need for him. I read a portion of the Bible, and sometimes also part of a book on theology. I talk to him as I would a friend, openly and honestly. Then, I attempt to listen, in that moment, but also in my life. Listening and being open is the hardest part!
Having a true friendship with Jesus means that you are never alone. Everyone will face difficult times in their lives, even without chronic illness, and finding strength in Christ is a powerful way through the most devastating circumstances.
On a more personal note, when did Scripture first come alive for you? How has your
chronic illness journey been impacted by your faith or vice versa?
I was raised in church, by Christian parents and grandparents, so I have always been surrounded by Scripture. I think it first became personal to me when I went away to college. It was then that I began going out in the hall of my dorm, trying to find a moment of peace and quiet, reading my Bible, and asking God what it all meant in my life.
My chronic illness would be intolerable without my faith. As noted in question number one, that is the reason I wrote this book. Perhaps people find other positive ways to deal with illness that don’t involve faith, but I know there is no other way for me. My faith, through my relationship with Christ, provides daily strength and hope for me. Without that, I think I would have given up during the worst of illness. I don’t want anyone to give up. I want them to know that peace and joy can be found in the midst of pain, as crazy as that sounds.
My faith has been strengthened through years of chronic illness. The daily symptoms are hard to tolerate, so I need to lean on the strength of others. My family and friends are wonderful, but my main source of strength is Christ. He gives me enough strength for each day, even when it may appear from the outside that I have none. Through decades of leaning on Him, my faith has grown.
What else do you enjoy writing about?
I’m working on a book about autoimmune disease, which encourages autoimmune patients to make daily lifestyle changes that may improve their health. Four years ago, I added a functional medicine doctor to my list of conventional doctors, and it has made a tremendous difference in my life. I have personally experienced such an improvement in my autoimmune diseases that I am now in school to be a functional medicine health coach. I want to help others improve their lives physically, as well as spiritually. For more information, see www.functionalautoimmunity.com.