Episode 29 - Joyful Sorrow – Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief and Trauma with Julie Busler
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Join us for a conversation with Julie Busler about mental illness amidst loss and grief. Julie shares her story of how loss and trauma impacted her mental health and caused her to become suicidal. As a missionary overseas, she was hospitalized in a Turkish psychiatric ward due to her suicidal ideation.
Through intense healing from the Lord, medication, and therapy, Julie found hope and joy again. But God didn't heal her entirely of her depression. She has learned how to allow joy and sorrow to coexist in her life. In this episode, Julie shares her testimony of finding hope through the Gospel and how grieving moms can find hope after the loss of a baby.
In this episode, we discussed:
It's okay to struggle even as a Christian
What to do about intrusive thoughts even if they initially seem innocent
How to get help and tell someone that you're struggling
PTSD and how the loss of a baby is traumatic
What is trauma and how does it affect our mind and body?
Amygdala hijack and its impact on us
Unhealthy coping mechanisms in grief
The importance of allowing yourself to grieve
Why is it so easy for us to pretend we are okay?
Allowing Jesus to use our pain and struggles to help others
Science and faith (and why therapy and medicine can be good things)
Cognitive distortions and how they impact our thinking
Letting God use our weakness and humanity for His glory
Full transcript below.
Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!
Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)
Julie shares that whenever we press down trauma, it will come out sideways. Often we will turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms instead of turning to God. What are some of your natural inclinations and things to turn to when avoiding grief/pain?
In this episode, Julie talks about the lie that Christians are supposed to always be happy and cheerful. She believes that sorrow and joy can coexist and that God can still minister to people through you. In what ways have you believed the lie that you can't be used because of your story? Write a prayer to God about it and ask Him to show you how He wants to use you.
We talked about cognitive distortions including overgeneralization statements such as "I'm always going to feel like this" or "I'll never feel better." Have you experienced this type of negative thinking? Julie shares that we can take those thoughts captive by preaching ourselves Truth from God's Word. Write down some verses that speak Truth over these statements.
Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!
MEET OUR GUEST
Julie Busler is currently serving as the Oklahoma President of WMU. She understands the pain of mental illness and has learned that trials not only humanize us but increase our capacity to be used by God.
Julie and Ryan have 4 children and have served overseas in Canada, Mexico, Germany, and Turkey. She is the author of the book, Joyful Sorrow: Breaking Through the Darkness of Mental Illness.
Connect with Julie:
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MEET OUR HOST
Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,300 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.
Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.
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Episode 29: Joyful Sorrow – Finding Hope in the Darkness of Grief and Trauma with Julie Busler
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast on the Edifi Podcast Network. I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ who founded Bridget’s Cradles, a nonprofit ministry in memory of my daughter, Bridget, who was stillborn at 24 weeks.
Cradled in Hope is a Gospel-focused podcast for grieving moms to find comfort, hope, and healing after the loss of a baby. We want this to be a safe place for your broken heart to land.
Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to heal our hearts, restore our joy, and use our grief for good. With faith in Jesus and eyes fixed on Heaven, we do not have to grieve without hope. We believe that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven.
Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:00:51] Welcome back to the Cradled in Hope Podcast and welcome to Season Two. It's been a.few months since our last episode, and we want to thank you for your patience in waiting for Season Two. We needed the few month break to plan for our Wave of Light event that was recently held on October 15th, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day.
Also over the summer, my son had some health issues and it impacted my schedule and ability to keep up with the podcast in that season. So we are so glad to be back on schedule and be releasing episodes again as we previously had on the first and 15th of every month. So I am so excited for you to listen to our very first episode of Season Two with my friend Julie Busler.
I met her in 2020 in a writer's group, and I have been so blessed by her friendship. She lives in Oklahoma, so just a state below me, and we've been able to see each other in person twice, once when I went down to Oklahoma to hear her speak at the Oklahoma Women's Baptist Convention, and then one time when she came up to Wichita for a speaking engagement at a church and we were able to have dinner, and I got to show her Bridges Cradles headquarters, which was really special.
Although Julie is not a bereaved mother herself, her story is one of beauty from ashes, and she is well acquainted with grief, loss, trauma, and mental illness. I feel that her story has so many parallels and there is so much we can learn from her. So without further ado, let me formally introduce Julie to you.
Julie and her husband Ryan have been married for 16 years. They have four children and they have served overseas in Canada, Mexico, Germany, and Turkey as missionaries.
Julie is currently serving as the Oklahoma President of WMU and is active in the women's ministry at her church. She understands the pain of mental illness and has learned that trials not only humanize us, but increase our capacity to be used by God. She loves to use her experiences alongside Scripture to discuss and teach how to thrive in spite of mental illness, and that joy and sorrow can coexist.
Her book, Joyful Sorrow, Breaking Through the Darkness of Mental Illness came out this past year. I'm excited to unpack the message of her book and talk about how it applies to us as grieving moms. So let's welcome Julie to the podcast.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:13] Hi, Julie. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.
Julie Busler: [00:03:17] So great to be here today.
Ashley Opliger: [00:03:19] I am so glad you're here. We've known each other for two years. We met in a group for writing our books, and you have this beautiful book that I'm holding called Joyful Sorrow, Breaking Through the Darkness of Mental Illness.
And I have just felt so convicted recently to have you come and share your powerful testimony with our audience, because you have been through so much in your life, and you have been an inspiration to me in how you vulnerably share your struggles with mental illness and how you've overcome with the grace and power of Jesus.
And so would you introduce yourself and share about the message of Joyful Sorrow?
Julie Busler: [00:04:01] My name is Julie and I'm married to Ryan. We've been married 16 years. We have four kids. We live in Oklahoma. We got married out of college and eventually felt led to go overseas as missionaries. So we served the Lord overseas in Mexico, Canada, Germany, and Turkey.
And I'll tell more about that in a little bit, but it was coming home from Turkey that eventually God shifted our path. And He led me to start using a lot of the pain in my life for a purpose. And that was sharing out of the sorrow, that there is still joy in the Lord, even if there's sorrow the rest of my life because of what I've been through. And so eventually God led me to write this book.
It's called Joyful Sorrow, and the title comes from 2 Corinthians 10:6, where the apostle Paul says that he was sorrowful yet always rejoicing. And when I read that, it really resonated with me because I thought, “Okay, he is saying that sorrow and joy can coexist.”
And so finally it was this ‘Aha!’ moment that we are to be people of joy as followers of Jesus, but it's okay to also have sorrow. And so that is where the title came from, and it's about how I live and thrive as a woman of faith who does live with mental illness.
Ashley Opliger: [00:05:19] So beautiful, Julie, and it's so appropriate for our audience because when you've lost a baby, you are now navigating this new normal of life, where your old life and old self feels so distant because your life has been radically changed and you're struggling with grief and loss and trauma, but at the same time, you are trying to move forward and find hope and faith for the future.
So there's this sacred dance of grief and joy, and trying to have some degrees of normalcy yet feeling like your world has completely turned upside down. And being almost eight years out from losing Bridget, I'm still walking this line of mixing sorrow and joy together. And so would you share more of your personal struggles and what led you to come to this place of relying on God to walk you through some of the darkest moments of your life?
Julie Busler: [00:06:17] Yeah. I think a lot of this really went down in 2018, but before I even get to that big breakdown, I have to go back in the story. So I had some trauma earlier in my life. I watched my mom die from cancer. And while it was a natural death and that she was sick and then died, it was very traumatic and it wasn't handled in the healthiest way.
And I grew up in a family where we really didn't talk about our emotions. The thought of going to see a counselor for help with hard things was never brought up. And so I thought that if you needed therapy, that showed a character flaw, something's wrong with you. So when she died, I just had this ability to shove down all this grief and pain and it was very traumatic.
And so I shoved it down, almost pretended like it didn't happen. And then, so I'm a freshman in college at this point, I went back to college and no one really knew what was happening, so that only fueled this isolation where I just kept it to myself.
And on the outside, I appeared very happy, very successful. I'm in a sorority. I'm getting good grades. I get married after college. But then in my twenties, my dad committed suicide. And that type of grief, that is very traumatic. It's very unnatural. And I think that's what it must be like to lose a baby in that it's not the natural order of things.
When my mom died, while it was awful and traumatic, it was still expected because she's older than me, but with instant loss or with a suicide, it's very shocking. And it's just not how it's supposed to be.
And so that grief was a whole different experience. It was very traumatic, very complicated. But again, I just shoved that down, because I didn't know how to grieve. And I really needed someone to teach me how to do that, but I didn't know that.
I wasn't trying to be fake or wear this mask. But as a Christian, I didn't know it was okay to struggle. I didn't know that I could get help and I didn't know how to get help. So I just shoved it down.
And with these two pretty big traumas in my twenties, that's still really young, my husband and I feel led by the Lord to go overseas as missionaries, because we do love Jesus. I mean, I know the Word at this point. I love the Lord and my desire is for other people to know Him too. And so I was able to compartmentalize all of this trauma.
So we're overseas and we're there for about six years, and there's this element of excitement and adventure to our lives. We were in Turkey most of the time and the Turkish people were wonderful. And the country is 99% Muslim, and so we're very different religion-wise, but we loved living there. A lot of the Bible happened in the country, so that was exciting to see where the Bible took place.
But eventually, my ability to pretend that I'm okay just ran out, because we just can't do that forever. It's so unhealthy. And so what happened, because I really thought, “This is just how I'm going to live, I'm going to feel so sad and so in despair,” but I kind of felt trapped in that, because I didn't know what to do.
But I would go out, I would share about Jesus, and then come home and be excited. But then eventually that would wear off, and I would think, “I'm telling people that there's hope and joy, but I'm so sad and I feel like there's no hope.” And that's a really hard place to be.
And so eventually what happened was my mother-in-law came to visit us in Turkey. And it was so exciting to have a visitor because there is an element of isolation when you live overseas. So we were just ecstatic!
And I remember watching her with my kids and thinking, “They're all so happy and joyful, and I feel nothing inside.” I was to this numb point. Although I could smile on the outside, I felt nothing.
And then this intrusive thought popped in my mind, and I had no control over it. I do think we have some control in what we do with it, but the initial thought just came into my mind and it was, “Okay, now is a good time to kill myself because my mother-in-law is here and she can help get my family home and my body home.”
And hearing that right now, about four years later, that is a little shocking to hear, I’m sorry, because I don't feel that way anymore. I might still struggle with an occasional thought, but it's not like it was at all. But at the time, that was such a comforting thought. While it's irrational, it would alleviate this intense pain I felt, and so that made sense to me.
And so I wrote a note and I was going to carry out this plan, mind you as a missionary who loves Jesus and who loves her family, and so that's hard to wrap your head around, but I was going to carry out this plan. And then I didn't, and I felt like a failure at the time.
Now, while I'm like, “Thank you, Jesus,” because that would've been the biggest mistake of my life. I can say that now with full confidence. At the time, the enemy who comes to steal, kill and destroy, wanted me to carry out that plan. I can say that with confidence. And so whenever I didn't, then I felt ashamed, like a failure. So that's a lot of irrational thoughts in my head.
So I knew if I didn't do something that I wasn't going to survive and this thought, it wasn't the first time I had a thought like this, these irrational thoughts really began as a teenager when my mom died. And they started out really innocent, if you will.
They are dangerous, but I didn't recognize them as dangerous because they were so nonchalant. And it was things, “Oh, I'm so sad. I just wish I wasn't here.” Or, “Man, if I got in a car accident, that would be okay.” Or, “If I didn't wake up in the morning, fine with me.”
But 20 years later, those thoughts, I never took them captive because I didn't understand how to, and there was a real mental illness that was not being treated, so eventually those thoughts snowballed into plans. And so that's why I'm a huge advocate for getting help at the first sign of a thought like that, because I want to help you not go through what I did. I waited way too long.
And so what happened? I knew I needed help and I, by the grace of God, confided in another missionary. And the reason I had the courage to go to her is because I knew she loved the Lord, but she was very authentic. And she had told me about a different trauma that she had been through and how that produced PTSD.
And so I remember thinking. “Okay. She gets it. She gets real life, the hard stuff that we all go through. She's not pretending like life is okay for everyone, yet I see joy in her.” And so that gave me the permission really to be real with her. And I think that's so important that we stop pretending like we are all okay. because it's not true. And so I just told her enough to say, “I think I need help. I think I'm really struggling.”
And she knew enough of the warning signs and what to look for in depression and PTSD, and she knew enough to recognize my need for help. And she said, “Julie, I think you should tell your husband.” And that was terrifying for me because I have this wonderful, godly husband who loves me dearly, and I love him, but he didn't know how bad I was struggling.
And I wasn'