OBU’s First Lady Jill Thomas and guest speaker Julie Buster hosted a Courage and Connections event Friday, Oct. 1, at 10:00 a.m. in the Cargill Center.
With many young, female OBU students spread across the living room with blankets and coffee, the event provided the women of OBU with a warm, safe atmosphere to listen to Buster’s story and connect with both her testimony and the other attendees.
Buster currently serves as the Oklahoma president of WMU and is active in the women’s ministry at Immanuel Baptist Church in Shawnee. She and her husband Ryan have been married for 15 years, have four children and have served overseas in Canada, Mexico, Germany and Turkey.
For the event, Buster shared about her struggles with depression after growing up in a verbally and emotionally abusive household and losing her mom to cancer after her freshman year of college. After suffering this loss, Buster explained that she didn’t deal with the trauma that came with the event and instead covered it up.
“I went back to college, put a smile on my face, and went back to school,” Buster said. “No one knew, but I secretly started these thoughts. The intrusive thoughts really started then. And they were so harmless. At the beginning, it would be like, ‘no who loves me,’ or … ‘no one notices me, I’m alone.’”
Following this loss, Buster got married to an “amazing, Godly man,” had kids, and became missionaries to go overseas. But right before they left, her father committed suicide.
“I just kind of buried it again,” Buster said. “I never get help. I never got to help after my mom died. And I didn’t get help after my dad died.”
Despite this, Buster and her family moved across the ocean to Turkey and started their ministry. Though the ministry was very successful with many coming to Christ and Syrian refugees finding sanctuary in Buster’s home, she was continuing to struggle with intrusive thoughts that were progressing towards suicidal thoughts.
“I was still having these thoughts and they had really grown in darkness,” Buster said. “It just kind of snowballed in my 30s to like, ‘maybe it’s better if I’m not here,’ or ‘maybe I’m just a burden on my family’ … to ‘I should just end everything.’”
Eventually, Buster experienced the intrusive thoughts of planning her suicide for the right place in time and that is where the spirit of the Lord stepped in.
“I just remember thinking, I think it was Jesus, I really do, was like, ‘something’s not right with that [thought].’”
After reading a post from her mother-in-law outlining how great of an example Butser is for Christians and her children, she realized the difference between how she looked to others and how she was struggling inside.
“Depression or anxiety or mental illness, bipolar disorder, whatever it is, doesn’t always look like you’re laying in bed, not showering, just sleeping all day. For me it was very successful. I was very active in the ministry and I could teach the Bible, but I was still so depressed and so traumatized that I wasn’t living that abundant life that can be ours,” Buster said. “Even with the sorrow, you know, the sorrow of love and loss, of suffering, of depression, you can still have joy in that sorrow with Jesus, but I didn’t know that.”
So, with this, Buster felt compelled to reach out to a fellow missionary and her husband to talk about her struggles and seek help. After talking about it with her husband, they decided to visit a psychiatrist. After filling out a symptoms list, where Buster had to humble herself and admit to the feelings she was experiencing that at the time seemed opposite to the calling of the Bible, Buster realised that God cares about her mental health and her spiritual walk as much as he cares about those he called her to minister to.
“God cares about my health, too, and my spiritual walk with Him. He doesn’t need me to like, go save the world. We get to cooperate with him. And he does allow us to be used, but he doesn’t need us,” Buster said. “So I had to see I’m not this missionary who came to save Turkey. I had to see my weakness and how broken I really was.”
After being admitted to a psychiatric hospital, Buster and her family returned to the United States, where she once again put on the mask of pretending everything was fine in her mind to avoid looking like a “failure” of a missionary for struggling mentally. After mindlessly smiling and sharing about all the things God was doing overseas and feeling the dissonance in her own words, she walked back to a room in her home and began to make a plan to take her life.
After surviving and recovering from her attempt at suicide, Buster was admitted to another psychiatric hospital in Oklahoma.
“This is where God intervened and started to change my perspective,” Buster said. “Faith and science can coexist in helping us to thrive.”
Buster explained that while in the hospital, she experienced peace in knowing that with medication, she wasn’t at risk. But at the same time, there was a controlled sadness and she realised she still needed Jesus in order to get through her struggles.
“It’s okay to combine [faith and science],” Buster said. “It’s not a sin to take medicine and to go to a psychiatrist or a therapist. That might be what you need … we’re all broken people.”
After experiencing this and believing she was unsuitable for ministry, Buster felt called to share her story at a ladies retreat.
“So I filmed this testimony,” Buster said. “It aired and droves of women were messaging me [saying], ‘Me, too.’ ‘Me too.’”
With this, Buster realized the ministry that vulnerability and brokenness cultivates.
“It was just so shocking to me how many people struggle, and that made me realize, ‘oh, my goodness, no one’s going to go to someone who’s perfect for encouragement, they’re going to go to someone who’s been broken and is walking in wholeness. That’s who you want to go to, because that’s who you identify with,” Buster said.
“So my whole perspective changed. I realized that our weakness is just this platform to display the power of God, that our manufactured perfection can never do.”
All female students are encouraged to attend more events like this one through the Courage and Connections program. Events will occur monthly and all women at OBU are invited to attend. Check bulletin boards and OBU News’s social media platforms for updates and information on future events.
If you are struggling with mental health issues, OBU encourages you to reach out to look into the Kemp Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic. Students receive 10 free sessions per year and after those 10 sessions, additional sessions are $10. The Kemp Clinic provides individual therapy, premarital therapy, couples therapy, family therapy and art/play therapy for those struggling with stress, anxiety/depression, navigating emotions, grief, trauma, relationship concerns, coping skills and more.
For more information on the Kemp MFT Clinic, visit https://www.okbu.edu/mft-clinic/index.html.