‘Chronic Grace’: Fort Worth actress’ latest book highlights journey through illness, faith

dfwnewsa | January 31, 2024 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

‘Chronic Grace’: Fort Worth actress’ latest book highlights journey through illness, faith

Julie Rhodes signs copies of her book, “Chronic Grace: Prayers, Saints and Thorns That Stay,” at Monkey and Dog Books in Fort Worth on Jan. 27, 2024. Rhodes is a Fort Worth-based actress who documents her journey through chronic illness and faith in hopes of inspiring others. (Marissa Greene | Fort Worth Report)
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Of all the days for Julie Rhodes to wake up sick, Easter in 2020 was perhaps the least expected. 

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The Fort Worth-based actress remembers having a full schedule for the day but waking up with a fever and feeling fatigued. A few days later, she developed a cough and shortness of breath. Rhodes called her doctors to discuss a COVID-19 test but couldn’t get one until two weeks later, she said. 

Her results came back negative, but Rhodes’ symptoms persisted. 

“I got the results back and I was sitting on my back porch and I just burst into tears,” Rhodes said. “I was so distraught because I knew I had all the symptoms and there was no other explanation in my mind. It was just the entrance to that bewildering limbo that I would live in.”

Rhodes spent the following years visiting a litany of medical professionals, experiencing a cancer scare and leaning into her Christian faith. Her book, “Chronic Grace: Prayers, Saints and Thorns That Stay,” documents her journey through chronic illness to recovery, and how she looked to the stories of historic Christian saints for guidance. 

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Now, she hopes the book can be a resource for others in need of prayer, support or someone to relate to. 

“I’m an actor and so it helps to have a script for me. Sometimes, when you’re grieving or you’re in pain, it helps to have words.” 

During Rhodes’ recovery, she learned that she had underlying health conditions that were exacerbated by the illness she experienced in 2020. Rhodes had a tick-borne infection, a potentially cancerous thyroid and a deficiency in a protein that protects the lungs and liver from damage. 

Throughout her diagnoses, Rhodes turned to her faith for support by journaling prayers, transcribing scripture and responding emotionally to the verses. Originally from Irving, Rhodes grew up in Irving Bible Church, where her dad was the senior pastor.

“Theologically, I was prepared for suffering but maybe not emotionally, because I think you can’t until it happens to you,” Rhodes said. “It was an effort to tell myself and God the truth that was happening as best as I could understand it.” 

As Rhodes started to get better, she learned that her process — reading, writing and praying on scripture — was similar to an ancient religious practice called “lectio divina,” a form of meditation rooted in a monastic practice that dates back to the earliest centuries, according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. 

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Julie Rhodes’ book, “Chronic Grace: Prayers, Saints and Thorns That Stay,” published in September 2023. The story takes the reader through her journey during the COVID-19 pandemic, experiencing a cancer scare and how she turned to her faith through all of it. (Courtesy photo | Julie Rhodes)

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“I was slowly starting to find some relief and peace through that method of journaling,” Rhodes said. “I read back over my journals and I was like, I wonder if this would be helpful to others.” 

In the chapters of her book, Rhodes unveils more of her story and how it reflects the struggles of historical saints like St. Ignatius and St. Teresa of Avila. 

Gordon Rhodes, Julie’s husband, said watching his wife put her book together helped him keep his faith strong during her illness. He hopes that her book can be used to help people find grace through their own struggles. 

“It’s not a book that says, ‘Oh, just follow these steps and you will be hunky-dory,’” Gordon said. “It’s a journey, it’s ongoing … what her book is saying is that you can find grace through them and find comfort through them.” 

Lisa Fairchild is a Dallas-based actress who has known Julie Rhodes since 2016. Rhode’s book documenting her story inspires Fairchild to share her own journey juggling a chronic illness and her career. 

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“She was so brave to do this because of the business that we’re in. It’s so competitive,” Fairchild said. “My thought process at the time was like, if I let anybody know that I had a slight weakness, they’re not going to hire me because I’ll be seen as a liability.” 

Rhodes hopes that her book can continue to help people like Fairchild, she said. 

“This is a season of promotion and talking about it and getting it out there,” Rhodes said. “I’m just in a place of gratefulness and reflection toward God for this moment. For this full-circle moment. I got my brain power back, I got my energy back, which I couldn’t have written this book if I hadn’t gotten well.” 

Marissa Greene is a Report for America corps member, covering faith for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at marissa.greene@fortworthreport.org or @marissaygreene. 

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. 

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