When Joy Breaks Into Your Suffering


[Today I share images I was blessed to make during a difficult season of suffering]

As I write this, it’s a wonderfully lazy Sunday afternoon in Ohio. My belly is full of lunchtime delishishness whipped up by my sweet sister-in-law whose home we are visiting. Relaxing on the patio in a Tommy Bahama beach chair, I’m aware of little else besides the warming sunshine on my skin, trees filled with eagerly chirping birds, an aimless spring breeze rustling the bottom of my cargo shorts on this sublime 60-degree day.

My mind is at ease. I’m relaxed in the deepest interior places. I feel solidly grounded and centered. There exists not even a hint of anxiety.

But this was decidedly not my state of mind in the summer of 2013.

After the upheaval of a major cross-country move – leaving the Pacific Northwest where I lived my whole life to face the unfamiliarity of Florida, with the death of my mother a month before the move still haunting my emotions, you could say my plate was full of adjustment challenges. And then my body revolted against the high heat and extreme humidity of stormy subtropical summer weather, and that was the last straw.

Something snapped that July evening: suddenly I felt like I couldn’t breathe, my anxiety levels skyrocketed, and I wound up in the local emergency room. A seemingly endless battery of tests were performed by the doctors, with nothing conclusive found, so I was sent home with a prescription for Adavan.


Early winter makes its presence felt in October with snow in the La Sal Mountains of Utah

Early winter makes its presence felt in October with snow in the La Sal Mountains of Utah


More doctors and more tests followed, as I was absolutely convinced something had gone awry physically. The days were filled with misery in a way I nor my precious wife have ever known before, with a strange anxiety almost constantly barraging my nervous system, fears running amok, a vague sense of dread, the threat of a panic breakdown always lying just under the surface.

One of the blood tests had revealed something concerning so I made a follow-up appointment with a medical specialist – not in Florida but in Washington state where I still had my primary care physician, as we realized I would be better off returning to family and friends in the West for the remainder of the summer. In late July I set out in my truck camper alone on the long road trip back to the PNW.

It was a summer of mental and physical suffering. Really, the worst suffering I have experienced so far in this life. And brutally difficult for my wife as well.

But that trek back West, and the ensuing months spent in my home region surrounded by caring friends, would begin a healing process. It wasn’t easy. And it wasn’t over when I eventually returned to Florida in October, as it would take the rest of 2013 and part of 2014 to fully solidify my mind, emotions, and body.


The blue cast of shaded light on river rocks contrasts with the green reflections of trees in Washington

The blue cast of shade on river rocks contrasts with reflections of green trees in Washington


True to how God has often worked in my life, photography of his creation became a means of much grace during that anxious summer. Connecting with the beauty of the landscape in the West, engaging in the contemplative process of forming compositions with my camera, proved once again to be medicinal.

I cannot explain how, in the middle of uncontrollable and painful anxiety pressing down on me, I was able to enter the flow of creating and produce memorable photographic work. First in Yellowstone during my solitary drive back to the West, then along a river with friends in Washington, and finally in October along my route back to Florida through Utah and Colorado – inexpressible joy would pierce through my darkness over and over as I beheld the majesty and beauty of the One who formed me, displayed in the works of His hands.

Grace was at work.

As I share with you today some of the images made during that troubled season, my heart soars with thankfulness to my God for how he never ceased to be at work throughout my suffering, with humble amazement for where he has brought me now to a place of rest, and with grattitude for these images that are tokens of his merciful care even during the worst times this life has thrown at me.


An atmosphere of mystery swirls around a thermal hot springs at Yellowstone National Park

An atmosphere of mystery swirls around a thermal hot springs at Yellowstone National Park


I’m also thankful for that time of suffering because it has given me new compassion and understanding for folks who are enduring their own difficult times, which perhaps is some of you reading now. Suffering seems to find all of us in this life. If you are in the midst of personal crisis and pain, I would be honored to support you by listening to your story, and lifting you up in prayer. If you wish to share with me privately, I’m ready to hear with a gentle heart. You may use the confidential Contact tab at the top of the page.


God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.
He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.
When they are troubled,
we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

(2 Corinthians 1:3b-4, NLT)


The San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado come alive with mesmerizing color in early October

The San Juan Mountains in southwest Colorado come alive with mesmerizing color in October

11 responses to “When Joy Breaks Into Your Suffering

  • cherissewebb

    Beautiful pictures and words! It’s scary what stress can do to the body. But God is good!

    Liked by 1 person

  • Ross Martin

    Thank you Cherisse! It is scary indeed. If I did not believe that each breath I take was enabled by my caring Father it would have been many times worse…


  • Virginia Clement

    Hi Ross.
    I haven’t thought about that verse for a long time. I’m thankful for God’s grace in our suffering and for His grand design that includes extended benefits to others through our suffering. Your life experience is a testimony to His faithfulness.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Melissa Stiles

    Ross, you are a counselor. This post brings me to tears, especially your offer to pass along to others the compassion God gave you. You are both a word smith and a brilliant artist photographer. Thank you for being a vessel of God’s mercy and love – thanks for writing this.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Slavomir

    Hey my friend, even though I’m familiar with what you have shared here, it is a good and humbling reminder of our fragility and God’s grace in healing us. Shooting along the Stillaguamish River together is a wonderful memory. All the images here are simply breathtaking….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ross Martin

      Slav, writing this piece was a needed reminder to me also about my own frailty, and my utter dependance on God’s strength!

      In this life we may develop many acquaintances, but few true friends. You are one of those special ones to me 🙂 I cherish that you and Heather were a significant part of my healing that summer!!

      Liked by 1 person

  • Guy Giesbrecht

    I ignored this 3 or 4 times as it passed my window of attention but I’m really grateful now that another chance came my way. Reading about your experiences not only enlightened my own episode back in 2000 but also made me realize that the strange feelings I’ve been having this week are an echo of that time. I’ve been having spikes of anxiety but didn’t immediately recognize them! A problem is easier to deal with if you kinda know what is going on.

    So thanks for once again splashing a little light into my day, I think it’ll really help. Rock on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ross Martin

      I’m grateful you read and shared a comment, Guy. There is something powerful when we share stories and realize the commonality of many of our struggles. You have my support in thought and prayer!


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