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't trying to be deceptive, it's that I was just trying to survive. But now I suddenly have to be like, “Hey Ryan, I want to die.” And that's a very terrifying conversation.
But I told him enough to where he took action and he became an advocate, which was also necessary because I was so wrapped in darkness and sickness that I didn't even know where to start. So he made an appointment with a psychiatrist, and that was really the beginning of me finally getting help for these struggles.
Ashley Opliger: [00:13:53] My goodness, Julie, you've been through so much. And I'm so sorry for the loss of your parents; that's so much grief and trauma there.
And what you said about the natural order of things, I just resonated with that statement so much, because as a mother, you never expect to drive behind a hearse with your baby's casket in it. You never expect to bury a tiny little casket or have a funeral for a baby. That's just not how God intended for this earth to be.
And so I know that all the moms that are listening can resonate with that because it's not the way it's supposed to be. And it does cause a lot of trauma. And I do see so many PTSD symptoms in myself from what I went through and from so many of the other moms that I've walked this journey with because there is a lot of trauma around the loss of a baby. Even an early loss, a miscarriage at home can be very traumatic and then that can spiral into these thoughts.
And I know for myself, you mentioned innocent thoughts, and even in support groups, I'll hear mom say things like, “I just want to be with my baby. I just want to be in Heaven, but I'm not suicidal. I'm not actually going to try to take my own life, but I really would be fine with dying because I just want to be with my baby.”
And that sounds innocent enough, and I've felt those feelings and I've said those things, but there is that deeper sadness and trauma that's going on. And I think you're wise to say, “Oh, those are little warning flags of, I could potentially spiral down and have deeper and darker thoughts.”
And so what would you say to the mom who's had those thoughts or is starting to wonder, “I think I'm going deeper and deeper into depression. I don't know if I'm going to get out of it,” or is feeling tempted to push it down and stuff it down because maybe she believes that, “If I let myself feel it, I don't know that I will be able to survive that level of grief.” What would you say is the next step, the next thing to do?
Julie Busler: [00:15:50] Well I think, number one, it's so important to learn what trauma is. I didn't. That was part of the problem, is that I didn't know what trauma was. And so when something would trigger me and I would go into a fight or flight or freeze mode, I wouldn't understand why I was reacting a certain way.
So once I started learning about trauma, which really, let me just define it. Trauma is when something happens that overwhelms the nervous system and it alters the way that you process and recall memories. And so it's really, when something happens, it's so horrific that it's beyond your ability to cope.
And we know through trauma experts that our bodies store trauma. And so an example of this would be like if you were, say, a four-year-old and you are abused by a man wearing a blue shirt, your body is remembering how you're feeling in this moment. It's remembering the details and it's storing that away.
So say you're a 30-year-old who loves Jesus, who's going to church to worship Him, trauma's not even on your mind, and out walks the worship leader in a blue shirt. Your body's going to remember that trauma and you might not even put it together, but it will start reacting.
You might feel the need to flee the scene. You might feel the need to fight or to be aggressive, or to hide or to cry, or you might have stomach pains. There's all these different ways that your body reacts. But if you don't understand, “Okay, this is a trauma response. These feelings will pass, and these are my coping mechanisms to start putting into play,” then you're left feeling like, “What's wrong with me? Maybe I'm not a good enough Christian,” because you aren't understanding what's happening.
And so I've needed therapy. I needed a professional counselor to teach me about trauma, so that I can learn to recognize what's going on in my body. Then I know better ways to cope.
And whenever we press down the trauma, eventually this will come out sideways. And so if I'm pressing down this grief and I don't want to feel it, I'm going to have these different ways that I manage it. And that might come out in perfectionism. That might come out in alcohol or in drug use or in, for me, it's suicidal thoughts. It could come out in exercising obsessively.
And those are ways that you're trying to put out this fire in your brain to not feel the pain. But whenever we realize those are unhealthy coping mechanisms and we, through therapy and through the Word of God and through hope in Christ, start to work through the grief in a healthy way, it hurts. But eventually, that grief will get easier and it won't be so overwhelming where to where it hijacks you all the time.
Ashley Opliger: [00:18:22] And that's something I like to talk about a lot is the amygdala hijack. I'm sure you're familiar with that. It’s the little amygdala, which is in the back part of your brain. It's responsible for the fight, flight, or freeze response, and that's where emotions are regulated.
Whenever you have gone through trauma and you have a trigger, so some examples of triggers for moms who have lost a baby would be like walking in Target and seeing the baby aisle, or a notification on your phone that you are supposed to be 36 weeks today, but you are not 36 weeks because you experienced a miscarriage or stillbirth earlier and your pregnancy app is still showing you these notifications.
So those things can be triggers, but your brain is going to respond to that. And whenever the amygdala takes over, it's called amygdala hijack. It means the prefrontal cortex, the front part of your brain, where logic and reasoning happens, that part kind of pops off. That's how my counselor always explained it.
It's like it's not functioning because you're overridden with the response of the amygdala. And that can be really hard. And for me, my counselor worked through strategies to help me get the prefrontal cortex back online and be able to work through those triggering responses so that I didn't have an overreaction to these things.
I also like to think of it like an iceberg. The things that you are saying, the reaction is what people see at the top, but there are so many things below the surface other people don't realize. And sometimes we don't even realize why we're responding the way we are. It's because there's all of this trauma and grief, and I would even say compounded grief.
For example, if you've lost a baby but you've had other trauma in your life, that can open up old wounds. And that can just layer on top of each other and open up these wounds, if we don't let Jesus and the Word of God and therapy come in and heal those wounds, they'll just keep opening.
Julie Busler: [00:20:15] That is so right. And so grief, I think it's the best if you start getting help learning how to grieve immediately after following the death of a loved one, of your baby.
But sometimes I want speak to the mom who may be 20 years, like what if your baby died 20 years ago? I think it's okay to still go back and start this grieving process because sometimes, depending how you were raised or how you handle the trauma, or even maybe your life is so busy and you have people who need you, and so you don't really feel like you have the time to stop and grieve. And so you just put on the strong face and keep going.
While that's okay and it's sustainable for a while, it's not the healthiest. It's not this abundant life that Jesus talks about. And so I think, even if a listener is like, “Well, my baby was born into Heaven 10 years ago. Maybe it's too late for me to get help,” it's not ever too late. As long as you have a heartbeat, there is a purpose and there's hope for healing.
And so I think that even if you have delayed grief, that's okay and a counselor can still help you work through that. And there's still fresh ways to apply Scripture, even in that situation.
Ashley Opliger: [00:21:19] Yes. That's such a good point because I have heard of women who, especially if they have living children at home, have had to do exactly what you said. They have people to take care of, a home to manage, and everyone expects them to be back to normal and to go on with their life. And so they don't feel like they even have the opportunity to grieve.
There's many moms who have to go right back to work. Some employers won't give you a maternity leave as if you had a living baby. But you have had a baby, but now you're expected to go straight back to work and you're grieving.
And so a lot of times, especially in those initial months, it's sometimes easier to try to push it down, move on, be strong. And that's also, unfortunately, what our culture tries to tell us. We are not a society that is comfortable with grief and with trauma.
We don't know how to handle it. And so a lot of times its unhealthy ways that we do in secret because we're trying to act as normal as possible.
Ashley Opliger: [00:22:16] We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We want to take a quick break to tell you about some resources our ministry provides to grieving moms.
On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find hope-filled resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, featured stories, and recommended books and other organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven Days, and holidays.
In addition, every month I lead Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website.
Lastly, we would love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find community. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name. Now let’s get back to our episode.
Ashley Opliger: [00:23:25] You mentioned that when you were in Turkey and as you were going through this mental illness, that everything looked good on the outside and that no one really would've known that something so serious was going on and that you were obsessed with death. You were thinking about it all the time.
And so how could it be that internally, you're constantly thinking about dying, but yet on the outside you seem like you have it all together? And no one even knew, even your husband. And so why is it so easy for us to hide our pain when we are struggling, when we're grieving? Why is it that it's so easy and what can we do to break that?
Julie Busler: [00:24:03] Well, I think one of my passions in talking out about mental illness and faith and all of these things is to shatter this idea that depression always looks like you're laying in bed crying all the time, not taking care of yourself and wearing black, which sometimes it does definitely manifest itself where you can't get out of bed, but there is definitely a group of people, and I'm one of them, who, I mean, I will feel completely depressed inside and there's just no hope and I want to die.
That's been how I was in the past, but you would never know it. And I think that's so shocking to people. And I remember kind of feeling the waters out whenever I was a missionary. And I tried to tell one friend, “I think I might be depressed,” and it was a big deal saying the word.
And she was like, “You're not depressed.” And her response, she really didn't know because how would you ever know? I mean, I'm bubbly, I'm excited. I'm friendly. You really wouldn't know, so it's not her fault. But it's hard to wrap your head around.
So I think the more that we make it normal, saying that depression always doesn't look one way, then it will help people say, “Okay, I can come out and actually claim, ‘Yes, I have depression, even though I don't look like I'm crying all the time.’” So, because I didn't fit the mold in my mind, I felt paralyzed and silenced, I couldn't actually say what was going on.
I also think that we in our society were really conditioned to believe this lie that as a Christian, you have to always just look happy and be cheerful.
And I definitely believe that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. I believe that we are to be people of joy who delight in Christ, but that does not mean that there can't be sorrow.
And so in my mind, “Well, if I'm sad about anything, then no one's going to want to know the God that I follow. They won't want to know Him or follow Him because they're going to think, ‘She's so sad.’” And in reality, that's just not true.
I think that the sorrow that we go through, I think that God uses that to make us more like Christ, to bring Him glory. He can use all things for our good and His glory. And really, the sorrow, it only sweetens and deepens our joy in the Lord, and that joy makes the sorrow endurable to where it doesn't take us out because that joy and our hope for Heaven, that is what helps us persevere.
I used to think, “Okay, if I look good on the outside, look perfect, people are going to want to know about Jesus.” And then I realized that's so ridiculous because whenever you're struggling, you're not going to go to the woman who has it all together, because you're going to think, “Oh, she doesn't even get it. She'll never understand. She's totally unrelatable.”
You're going to go to the woman who has been through hard things, but finds her worth and hope and identity in Christ, and is walking in that wholeness even if there's continued sorrow and struggling with trauma. That's who you're going to want to go to, to be like, “Hey, I have trauma too. How can I know Jesus like you do?”
And so I think we, and as a society, are conditioned to pretend and we have filters. We change our pictures to where we look perfect online and all of that fuels this idea of perfection. And it's just not true and it's not healthy.
Ashley Opliger: [00:27:16] Amen to that. Yes. I agree with that 100%.
And I believe that our testimony is only strengthened when we've gone through trials and struggles and pain, and that's how we relate to other people and have the ability to even share the Gospel, because God has given each of us a story and a struggle and that is what God will use to reach other people.
And so for me, I'm able to speak to other women who have lost a baby. And for you, you're able to speak to people who are walking through mental illness. And even though these are things we would've not chosen for ourselves and for our lives, this is how God is using us to share the Gospel.
And I think that both you and I would say we would find a way to share the Gospel with anyone anywhere, without the struggle. But this is a very specific way where He's giving us a specific place and people to minister to.
And so even though you've been a missionary and you've been on the mission field and been out sharing the Gospel to other people groups, and religions and everything, God has used your specific life story and struggle to relate to all these women that are going through mental illness and may have different stories than yours, but can relate to you because of what you've gone through.
And I think it's so beautiful how Jesus does that and how He uses our pain for purpose. So would you share how God has brought good from this trauma and from the loss in your life?
Julie Busler: [00:28:40] I will. And I am definitely seeing the goodness of God in this really ongoing trial, but I have to go back a little bit because it took a long time to get here.
So I eventually see this psychiatrist in Turkey and I'm hospitalized in this Turkish psychiatric hospital, which was extremely difficult, but it was in the hospitalization that I started to really wrap my head around, “This is a real illness.”
And medication can be very beneficial in some people. Therapy's very beneficial. I started to see that my thyroid wasn't acting properly. I was deficient in Vitamin D and iron. And so I started to see all these ways that my body was out of whack that was affecting my mood.
And so I think God let me walk through this whole season of, I was rehospitalized several times. And I think that was important because I will meet people often who will say, “Well, I've been in a psych ward. There's no way God could use me.”
And so I look back now and I'm like, “Okay, I can see how God allowed me to go to that extreme, needing that level of care, because it helps me to relate to people who think that because they've been in a psych ward, God can't use them. And I just don't believe that to be true.”
And then eventually wrapping my head around, “This is an illness and I can benefit from medicine and these are good gifts.” He took me on this long journey through the Word of how to apply what I'm learning through science with Scripture and how to walk in this. And I'm coming alive with fresh hope and vision of who Jesus is.
And so then I started to realize, “Okay, I can speak to this in this community of faith. God can use all these experiences to say to people, ‘There's room for science and faith in walking in mental health. We don't have to have just faith or just science.’” I think that God's over all of that.
And so there's been lots of different experiences that have been difficult, that I was like, “Okay, Lord, why another hospitalization? Why can't You just take away this depression?” And it was through this ongoing journey and all these experiences that I feel like God was equipping me to be this voice of hope in the dark.
And so I have people who will come to me and they'll say things like, “Well, it's great that you are a missionary and you wrote a book, so God uses you. But God couldn't use me. I just go to the hospital once a year, and I just really struggle.”
And I'm like, “No, if you have faith, then you please, God. It's impossible to please God without faith. It doesn't matter that I wrote a book and it doesn't matter that you didn't write a book, but what matters is that you love the Lord and you love others.”
And so I love being able to breathe life into people and meet them where they are, because I've been on the whole spectrum here. I've been the one who wanted to die, whose ministry was over. I was told after I came home from the mission field that I was unsuitable for ministry. I've been that person.
And now I've been the one who God is putting more in the spotlight. And all of it's precious. And the biggest, most important thing is that we remain people of faith who believe in God.
Ashley Opliger: [00:31:43] I love that, Julie. It reminds me of Genesis 50:20, where it says, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” And I know I told you, when you first started writing your book, that your book is not only going to change lives, but could save lives.
If you wouldn't mind sharing the moment when you were on the bathroom floor and how God even gave you the idea to write this book and how He really saved your life through the hope of writing a book and a message of hope. But I do believe that this message, although Satan definitely intended harm on you and wanted to have a very different story and outcome for your life, God used that struggle to use it for good and to help people. And so would you share that story?
Julie Busler: [00:32:27] Well, whenever my mother-in-law came to visit, like I shared earlier, and I had that initial thought to like, “This is a good time to actually finally take my life,” I remember I went into the bathroom in our apartment in Istanbul, Turkey. And I'm a lover of words. I love expressing myself through writing, but I was so sick that even my ability to really form words was being held captive.
So all I could muster up was. “I'm just like my dad. I'm sorry,” because whenever your parent dies by suicide, it does raise your chances of dying in the same way. And it was so traumatic because prior to experiencing death of loved ones, I hadn't thought much about death. So once you lose someone you love, either a baby or a parent or anyone, I feel like death becomes a reality. And then my mind became obsessed with it. And so I wrote this suicide note.
It was, “I guess I'm just like my dad. I'm sorry.” And I remember sitting there holding my phone, assuming someone would find it when I was gone. And I just deleted it. And then I thought, “I can't even take my life. I’m such a failure.” And so that was really seared in my mind.
And then I was hospitalized, and we moved home to Oklahoma and I was rehospitalized, and I eventually started getting the help I needed through doctors and therapy and really diving into the Word.
And I was taking a walk. We were living in a missionary home in small-town Oklahoma, and didn't even own a house. We were homeless at this point. Really, our whole life was just upside down. And I had taken a walk and I sat down on this porch and this thought popped in my head: I could either leave a short note of despair or a whole book of hope.
And I was still very deep in the sorrow, the darkness, and really had not learned how to walk in mental health yet, but God planted the seed where I was reminded of that little note I wrote that was pure despair. And then I thought, “I could counter this with a whole book of hope pointing to Jesus, who is our hope.”
And so that seed was planted in my heart. And it would be over a year later before I would even entertain that thought again, but that was in there because I think that God does, He gives us little glimpses of the plan. And now we have to live the journey.
And there was still a lot, like you mentioned that verse in Genesis, that's the story of Joseph. And if you look at his life, he was thrown in a pit and then sold into slavery and that's traumatic. And then eventually he's put in jail and that's traumatic. There's always different elements of trauma in his story, but it's all part of the story. And eventually God gets all this glory and His people are saved through the life of Joseph. And so it's so beautiful.
But when Joseph was in the jail, I wonder what was going through his head. And he could say that it was God who put him there. He understood that God's sovereignty was part of that. And so even though I'm sitting there, sitting on this porch in Oklahoma, thinking, “I still don't know how to live,” God put that little dream in my heart.
And so how that came to fruition though was my church was having a women's event. It was during COVID, and so it was an online event and the women's ministry team wanted a few ladies to share their stories. And I felt led to volunteer and that was kind of crazy to me because that's my worst nightmare. I didn't want anyone to know.
I was still so ashamed to be this person who was a missionary who now struggled with mental illness. I was so bound in shame. And so I didn't want to and I fought the Lord for a minute, but my heart felt like it was going to beat out of my chest. I knew God wanted me to do that.
And so I blubbered like, “I'll do it.” I was like, “What am I doing?” And so my church embraced my story, and this was huge because they saw the importance of speaking out about mental illness and getting help, professional help, and that's okay.
And so if my church would've squashed that, I think I would've been afraid and I would've been silenced. So I'm so grateful that my church embraced my story. And we aired it online and I thought, “Okay, only local ladies are going to see it. No one else.”
And I started getting floods of messages and emails from other people, saying, “I watched your testimony. Me too. And I struggle too. I'm a pastor's wife and no one knows my struggle.”
And I started to realize, “Oh my goodness, I am not the only one.” And because I was in ministry, I think it shows that anyone can struggle. I don't care if you're the most influential pastor of our day, you are human and you live in a fallen body that will struggle and it's okay to get help. And so it was the response that just kept fueling this thing inside of me that wanted to see God get the glory and to share hope even in the midst of sorrow.
Ashley Opliger: [00:37:02] Yes. And I love that you had earlier talked about how science and faith come together and that there's no shame in seeking out counseling and seeking medication.
You have a t-shirt and a mug that says, “I talk to Jesus and my therapist.” And I just love that little phrase because it's so good, because a lot of times I feel like as Christians, we know we just need Jesus. And the Word of God is the bread of life, and that's what we need.
He is everything to us, but He's also given us these gifts, medication and community and support groups, and books, and podcasts, and sermons, and all of these things can be part of your healing journey. And that's been the case for me. It's not just been one thing.
I always say that God is the one who has healed me and brought me through the grief and pain of losing Bridget, but He has used many people along the way, community, support groups, and counseling, and that's all been a part of my journey.
And so I love that you are bringing that to light and normalizing that, because I do think there is such a stigma that it's a sign of weakness to go to a counselor. And I think it's a sign of strength that you go. And it's something that I wish everybody could go and have that experience because it is so helpful to have someone who's a professional and a third party look in on your life and speak into it.
I'm a big advocate for going to Christian counseling so that they are coming at your counseling session from a Biblical perspective and from not just a mind and body, but also a spiritual connection as well.
And so would you talk about those stigmas and encourage if there is someone listening who's on the fence about whether or not they should seek help or go to counseling or talk to a doctor about medication? What would you say to that woman who's wondering, “Do I need more than what I currently am doing?”
Julie Busler: [00:38:52] Yes. And I think the best way to speak to, I'm going to take therapy for instance. And so let me give you an example of something I learned from a licensed professional counselor, and then how I applied it with the Word of God.
And so there are these thoughts that we call in therapy cognitive distortions. And so I didn't learn this phrase in Scripture. This is something that a therapist taught me. And so a cognitive distortion is an irrational thought that can influence our emotions. And they can be pretty extreme.
And so one of those is a ‘should statement’ and I was very guilty of should statements. I still do occasionally, but I catch myself. So I would be sitting in the therapist's office and I would say, “I should have done this.”
So for instance, “I should have noticed my dad was suicidal,” or, “I should have noticed my baby wasn't moving and gone to the doctor sooner,” or, “I should have eaten this,” or “I should have done this and then the outcome would be different.” And that kind of thinking, it puts this unreasonable demand and pressure on you and it makes you feel guilty, like you’ve failed, when in reality, God is sovereign.
And when you lose someone, there are things that we can do to help that not happen. We can pray in faith. We can pray for miracles. And sometimes that happens, but sometimes no matter what we do, the loss still happens because that's what God has for that situation.
And so I had to learn to recognize the should statements. So then as I would recognize them through therapy taught me, I would apply the Scripture and I would think, “Okay, I should take this thought captive and make it obedient to Christ. Well, what does the Bible say? The Bible talks about God's sovereignty. The Bible talks about God's goodness. He is still good. Even if this happened, He is still good.”
And so I would start applying Scripture to combat those should statements that really kept me in this place of guilt.
Or another cognitive distortion is, it's called overgeneralization, and it's always a ‘never statement’. So I would be the one who was like, “I'm always going to feel this much pain. It's never going to get better.” And I didn't realize I was thinking that way until a therapist pointed it out.
And then when we go to Scripture, we know that someday death will be swallowed up in life, that eventually through Christ and this hope of Heaven, we will be without pain. One day, God will wipe away that last tear and there will be no more mourning, no more grief, no more sadness, and we will be reunited with our loved one. That is our hope. And so if we believe that, we can't say it'll always feel like this.
And so, as I recognized through therapy these faulty thinking patterns and then preached Truth to myself through God's Word, that would help. That would transform my thinking and renew my mind.
And so that's just an example of how God has used really secular therapy. I also see a, she's a regular licensed, professional counselor, who is a Christian. And so I get all of the care like you talked about, but this is just also secular therapy, but then I'm constantly feeding my mind Scripture. I have a mentor who I meet with weekly, who helps me and reminds me of Truth. I'm making sure to faithfully be in community, and those things with the therapy, help my mind stay renewed and transformed.
Ashley Opliger: [00:42:07] I'm so glad that you mentioned mentorship and community, because I do think that Satan wants you to stay in isolation. And especially when you are dealing with mental illness and depression, it's really easy to self-isolate because of the way that you feel, and then the shame that you feel and those statements that you said, the ‘should haves’.
And with the grieving moms that I talk to that is such a common, “I should have”, or, “I shouldn't have.” “I shouldn't have eaten that. I should have done this. I should have noticed this. I wish I would've gone to the doctor sooner,” and all of this compounded guilt. And I really believe that's from Satan.
Those are deceptive lies coming from Satan to cause you more shame and pain on top of the grief, and then also to try to push you away from God, that somehow either you caused it or God caused this horrible thing to happen and God cannot be trusted.
And that's why it's so important, like you said, to bring everything back to Scripture, to know the Truth of His Word, to know that He's good, that He's sovereign, that He loves us, that He cares for us, that He's faithful because that is what Satan does not want us to know.
In that power of God's Word is where we find healing and we find hope, and we know that we get to be with our babies forever in eternity and that our lives are just a vapor in the grand scheme of eternity.
And so anytime Satan can use any of those cognitive distortions to keep our mind away from the Truth of God's Word, he's going to do that. And so being mindful and self-aware of that, recognizing it, like you said, your counselor was pointing that out.
For me, it's been helpful for me to recognize when Satan's speaking to me and be like, “That's not from God. That voice was not from God. That thought was not from God, because it doesn't align with His Word and His character.”
Sometimes it can be hard because Satan is very conniving and tricky and he twists Scripture. But the more that you're in the Word, the more that you can recognize God's voice versus his. And so thank you for bringing that up.
So I want to transition now and talk about one of the chapters in your book is titled A Thorn in My Mind. And you're referencing in 2 Corinthians 12, when Paul is talking about this thorn, this messenger of Satan that God has allowed in his life, that's basically tormenting him. And he asked God three times, he pleaded with the Lord to take it away from him, and He did not. And so you talk about mental illness being this thorn in your mind. Would you elaborate on that?
Julie Busler: [00:44:40] Yeah. This was one of those lessons when I came back from Turkey and started seeking the Lord, He faithfully brought me to. I wasn't even trying to read this in the Scripture and make it fit in my narrative. But as I was reading it, it was this big ‘Aha!’ moment. And I thought, “Okay, there's something that Paul is dealing with, and it's tormenting him, that he's begged God to take away and God hasn't.”
And so immediately I thought, “I’ve begged God, ‘Please take away this depression, these flashbacks, this PTSD,’ and He hasn't.” And so then I thought, “Okay, so why would God …” It says a messenger of Satan, that's what they called the thorn. And so that kind of made me stop and scratch my head, because I'm like, “Why would God allow this messenger of Satan to do this?”
And as I started to look at the text and pray about it and dissect it, I realized, “This is brilliant.” The thorn was given to combat pride. So Paul had had all these amazing revelations with God and he had every right to boast with this awesome experience. But in order to not boast and to humble him, God allowed this problem, thorn in the flesh, to be in Paul's life to keep him humble and dependent.
Well, pride is straight from Satan. That is, I mean, whenever I was trying to do life in my own strength as a missionary, trying to just suck it up and keep going, that is working in my own strength. And eventually, that ran out because we are called to be dependent on God. We are weak. He is strong. And it's in our weakness that His power is on display. Actually, it makes Him more beautiful when He shines through our humanity.
So I thought, “God is using the purposes of Satan to defeat Satan's plan. That’s amazing! That's brilliant!” And so I thought, “Satan is powerful and we should be aware of his schemes, pray against him.” We have to remember that God is more powerful. And I had a Bible teacher once described Satan as like a vicious dog on a leash to where he can only go so far. And yes, he does still kill and destroy, but God has the final say.
And so that really helped me come to terms with, “Okay, God, even used this messenger of Satan, the thorn in the flesh to defeat Satan.”
And so God allowing mental illness in my mind, in my flesh, it's definitely humbling. I mean, that's pretty humbling to be like, “Yes, I got sent home from the mission field. I struggle with my mind.” That's been very humbling, but that has defeated this self-reliance that I was living in. It's defeated that purpose of Satan in my life. And now I embrace the weakness and I've only seen my ministry expand and I see God more glorified.
And really, I looked back at this section of Scripture and I thought, “Okay, how does Paul respond?” And he responds with gladness, and that was mind-blowing to me. I was like, “Okay, am I responding with gladness to God allowing this thorn in my flesh?” And so that's really challenged me in how I'm going to respond to this.
And this whole lesson. I think one of the big reasons that God also lets me have this thorn in my flesh is it helped me to come to a place of acceptance because prior to accepting, “Okay, this might be my story for the rest of my life on earth,” prior to that, I was kind of fighting with God. Like, “God, just take it away. Why won't You take it away?” And that was leading me on this path of anger towards God, which is really some unbelief in there.
And so once I accepted, “Okay, I've asked God and I can still ask God, but He hasn't taken it away, so this must be His good plan for my life at this time.” And once I accepted that, it freed me up to stop fighting Him and to start cooperating with Him and to start listening and learning and growing. And so that was a huge lesson, and accepting that this sorrow might last the rest of my life on earth, but it won't last forever.
Ashley Opliger: [00:48:28] That's so beautiful. And I believe as grieving moms, we all wish that this wasn't part of our life story. And I know so many times I’ve fought God on, “This is not what I thought it would be like to grow a family. This is not what my family is supposed to look like.” And for the rest of my life, I'm always going to be missing one of my children.
But when I have come to a place of acceptance of His sovereignty and of His plan, that's when peace that surpasses all understanding has come in and I’ve realized I can accept this plan from God, that I've asked that this cup be taken away from me, but it hasn't. And it's when you come to that place of surrender that you say, “Not my will be done, but Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”
And so if this is God's good plan for me and He wants to work through this story, I feel like the sooner that I can accept this plan and not fight against it, because if I choose not to accept it, I still can't change it. I don't have that power.
And so coming into cooperation with God and trust with Him, trusting that He has a good plan and purpose and that He is going to redeem all of this pain and all of this grief, because I have not lost Bridget forever, I have her for eternity, to me, that is the greatest hope. And that is why we press on, even when we're going through these trials.
And so to come back to our verse that we've been talking about with Paul, I'll read verse 10. So it says, “That is why for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
And I just love that so much, because that is what God has said. As we go through these trials, as we go through grief and we experience trauma and triggers that bring us anxiety and panic, all of that God can use. And that is when we are actually strong, even though we feel that we are weak.
And so I'm so grateful that you have been so vulnerable with your story, and I know God's going to continue to use your testimony, and it's so beautiful how He created this beautiful book.
And so I'm really excited to share that as part of this episode, you're giving us a discount code to buy merchandise or your book Joyful Sorrow on your website, and you have t-shirts, mugs, some other things on there. So would you share the code and what people can find on there?
Julie Busler: [00:50:56] My website is www.juliebusler.com and the discount code is BRIDGETSCRADLES. And so that'll give you a 15% discount for the next two weeks. My hope is that you guys will use that.
You can also find me on Facebook at Julie Busler, Author, and then on Instagram @juliebusler. And I love to post online almost daily, just the overflow of my own personal walk with the Lord and encouragement on how I practically do day-in and day-out life struggling but depending on God.
Ashley Opliger: [00:51:32] I love that. I love your Instagram page. So everybody go and follow her there and go check out her website. I would love for everybody to read Joyful Sorrow. We have it linked in our show notes on our website, as well as in our Hope Guide. There are links for you to go find her book, so please go check that out.
Julie, would you mind praying for us as we close this episode?
Julie Busler: [00:51:54] Sure. I'd love to.
Lord, we love You so much. We trust that You are good and that You are for us. God, You are the God of all hope and all peace. Lord, You give peace, even when circumstances are difficult and remain difficult, Lord.
I ask for the grieving mothers who are listening today, Lord, that You would speak hope to their hearts, God. Remind them that their babies are with You in glory, and that someday You will wipe away their last tear as they're reunited with You and with their babies, Lord.
I pray that You will help the women who need help, who need professional help. Guide them in the right direction. Give them the strength to make that first step, even if it's telling a loved one, “Hey, I think I need help.” Lord, give them courage and boldness to do that. Lord, they are worth it, God, they matter.
And I know that You delight when we walk in mental health and then when we love You with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, Lord. And so we love You. We trust You. And I pray that You will continue to bless this ministry. And it's all for You in Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Ashley Opliger: [00:53:01] Amen. Thank you so much, Julie.
Julie Busler: [00:53:03] Thank you so much for having me.
Don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss new episodes when they release on the 1st and 15th of every month. You can also find this episode’s show notes and a full transcript on our website at bridgetscradles.com/podcast.
There you can also download a free PDF for each episode, called the Hope Guide, which is filled with notes, Scripture, links, discussion questions, and so much more. Be sure to leave your email address so that we can keep you updated on podcast episodes, upcoming support groups, and other hope-filled resources.
If you’re interested in volunteering or donating to Bridget’s Cradles in memory of a baby in Heaven, you can find information on our website on how you can get involved and spread hope to other grieving families.
One way you can help is by leaving a review of this podcast on iTunes [or the Apple Podcasts app]. Consider the minute of your time as a way YOU can personally share the hope that you’ve found here with another mom whose heart is broken and needs healing.
Thank you so much for listening and sharing. Until next time, we will be praying for you. And remember, as Jesus cradles our babies in Heaven, He cradles us in hope. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope.
Cradled in Hope is part of the Edifi Podcast Network, a collection of faith-inspiring podcasts on Edifi, the world’s most powerful Christian podcasting app. To listen to Cradled in Hope and find other podcasts by leading Christian voices, download the Edifi app in the Apple and Google Play stores or online at edifi.app. Thank you so much for listening.
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