A Conversation about Transition

A Conversation about Transition

“Sure, I can write a post about transition,” I confidently told the rest of the Velvet Ashes editoral team. After 18 years of cross cultural living, transition stories abound. But somehow putting pen to paper to capture what we experience in common – and yet experience so uniquely personally – has proven to be easier agreed to than written.

Passage from one state, form, place to another is a rather sterile definition of a word carrying layers of emotion and memories for anyone who has lived cross culturally. It seems a call to cross cultural service is also a call to transition.

You know. Taking inventory of friends – who’s moving, who’s staying. Sorting through your collection of currencies to find the one for the country you are traveling to next. Packing suitcases weighing 49.9 pounds. Figuring time zone differences for Skype calls. Leaving those to whom you belong to become a sojourner in a place you’ll never quite fully fit. Transplanting  far from extended family. Sinking roots into foreign soil. Whispering goodbye – again – to family, teams, friends, projects, positions, seasons, stages. You know.

Some transitions we choose. Some transitions come when the rug is pulled out from under us. But one thing every transition holds is loss. Even in wonderful, exciting transitions, there is a letting go, a release, moments of waiting-to-exhale trust. Grief becomes that old familiar friend who sits in the corner waiting for you to have a few minutes to quietly chat. And sometimes that loud obnoxious friend who won’t let you talk to anyone else until she’s had her say.

For years, my core paradigm was TRANSITION = CHAOS!

You are probably familiar with the transition metaphor of crossing a river, moving from one shore of certainty and settledness to the next. The current in the middle represents chaos, fatigue, uncertainty, stress, fear, excitement, joy, sorrow – well, let’s face it, every emotion known to mankind!

Honestly, sometimes transition feels more like crossing an ocean than a river.

I used to think the goal of transition was to just get across as quickly and safely as possible. Hopefully with no one drowning.

In one of those crossings, as I was swallowing swirling water and trying to come up for air, a strange thought came to me – maybe in the middle of a raging river is right where God wanted me.

It makes sense, right?  Because transition is such a common and frequent experience for cross cultural workers, there must be significant purpose in transition. God isn’t vacationing while we are transitioning. We know transformation most often happens when our identity, our values, our core beliefs are challenged. When normalcy is disrupted. And transitions supply endless disruptions!


What if this river has a purpose? What if time in the river is building muscles that don’t get used on the shore?

Once I started looking for opportunity in the chaos, I didn’t have to look far!

Transitions get me to the end of myself quickly. I am more physically tired with less emotional reserve – prime time for default stress responses to surface what’s in my heart. Like a tube of toothpaste, squeeze our hearts and what’s inside comes out. And sometimes it’s not minty fresh!

I’m normally a pretty reasonable person. But when it comes to putting things in boxes, I become a gone-off-the-rails, full blown control freak! Demanding and commanding, the longer my to-do list becomes, the shorter I become with those who are unfortunate enough to be “in my way.” Those who need more of my time and patience and understanding, get less. My default response says “Put your stuff in a box” (both literally and figuratively).

And there’s my invitation to cooperate with God as He moves me towards transformation in my transition. What if I honored His ways instead of demanded my own? What if I made intentional choices to live according to my desires rather than my default behaviors? What if I trusted Him to provide everything I needed for life and godliness in this exhausting process of getting from shore to shore?  What if I decided what I want to be true about me when I emerge on the other side and cooperated with God as He makes me into that person?

I’m beginning to see transitional seasons as a gift. A time when new dreams are birthed. When God prunes me to prepare for fruit. When He releases my grip on what is to be able to grasp what’s to come. And best of all, transitions are fertile ground for Jesus to be formed in me.

If this current transition you are in was specifically designed for you, what might God be up to?  What’s His invitation to you?

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Haslam via Compfight cc


  1. Kimberly Todd May 7, 2014

    Thank you, Patty. We are approaching a MAJOR transition. And I have sensed for awhile that it is unique and purposeful, not just to get from shore to shore, but into another season of the soul. What you’ve written here aligns with what I am currently reading in Mark Buchanan’s “Spiritual Rhythm: Being with Jesus Every Season of Your Soul.” I feel His love and leading today. Thanks for being the voice.

    1. Patty Stallings May 7, 2014

      That’s it, isn’t it – being with Jesus in every season of our souls.  Sounds like a book worth reading.  I would love to hear more of what He is inviting you into during this transition season.

  2. laura May 7, 2014

    Wow.  I feel like our past 10 years or so have been all about transition and this next transition is a HUGE one, affecting,  TRANSFORMING even, many aspects of my life and the life of my family.

      “What if I decided what I want to be true about me when I emerge on the other side and cooperated with God as He makes me into that person?”

    Need to take some time with this question. 

    1. Patty Stallings May 7, 2014

      Laura, I’m curious what 10 years of transition is forming in you.  What truths are being embedded in your heart, what aspects of your soul are being shaped, what are you keeping, what are you tossing…

      I’ve been in a long season of transition myself.  A big one I’m in the middle of now is becoming an empty-nester in just a couple months, ending a long and loved season of active parenting with children in our home.   And I’ll be honest, this long season of transition has produced some shell shock and numbness!  What I want to be true is living and loving out of a fully awake heart.

      1. laura May 21, 2014

        What great questions. I’m currently in the throes of an international move that is seeing us traveling for almost a month from home 1 to home 2.   So, I’ve recorded these questions in my journal and am allowing myself some time and space for pausing and reflection as I answer them.  will be back with some form of response 🙂  grace and peace.

        1. Patty Stallings May 26, 2014

          Blessings on your travel and transition, Laura!  Taking time to pause and think and reflect is such a wise thing to do.  We’ll look forward to hearing more.

  3. Amy Young May 7, 2014

    Patty, I love this paradigm shifting perspective. In almost every transition I HAVE experienced transformation. So, I ask myself … Amy, why do you — at times — resist it so? But now, thanks to you, I have a new go-to phrase! 🙂

    1. Patty Stallings May 7, 2014

      Amy, I’m guessing most of us resist transition because it’s so disruptive and uncomfortable.  🙂  But that really is when God – and we – have more access to our heart, isn’t it?  God is the one doing the transformation, but cooperating with Him is always a good plan!

    2. Patty Stallings May 7, 2014

      Amy, I’m guessing most of us resist transition because it’s so disruptive and uncomfortable.  🙂  But that really is when God – and we – have more access to our heart, isn’t it?  God is the one doing the transforming, but cooperating with Him is always a good plan!

  4. Liz Schouten May 7, 2014

    We just got the rug pulled out from under us. This morning. We have little or no idea what we will be doing next year, except that we have to move away from here, where we were settling in for what we thought would be a long stay. years. Now we’re down to six weeks.

    Please lift our family up. we need peace, wisdom, guidance, and the ability to finish well.

    1. Patty Stallings May 8, 2014

      Oh, Liz, I am hurting for you.  These kinds of transitions are so very hard.  I’m trusting with you that our Gentle Shepherd will be near you in the process of surrendering and grieving.   I’m also trusting this season will not be wasted and His peace and purposes for you and your family will be your sure foundation.

      If you’d like to talk, send me an email.

  5. M'Lynn May 7, 2014

    “I used to think the goal of transition was to just get across as quickly and safely as possible. Hopefully with no one drowning.”

    Too funny, Patty!  This is exactly the way I feel as soon as we grab our bags and leave for a summer in America.  Let’s just get across this ocean as quickly and safely as possible.  I can be such a rude person during that short transition from Chinese soil to Texas soil.  I click into survival mode, and just want to get it done.  My goal is to arrive at our destination in one piece with all my kids and belongings.  As I prepare to make the trip with 3 kids in tow for the first time, I want to see that journey as a chance for transformation.  A chance to allow God to give me exactly what I need exactly when I need it during the journey.  A chance to see the challenge of travel as a gift to be savored by enjoying my little ones and my husband in the process.

    1. Patty Stallings May 8, 2014

      I hear ya!  There’s nothing like international travel with little ones to bring out the mother bear in us!
      What is one thing you would like to be true about you when you step off that plane in Texas?   I’d love to join you in asking Him to empower you to walk that out.

  6. re-starting well | Normal Radical June 18, 2015

    […] Transition = Transformation (even when it just feels like chaos). Through every single transition you’ve gone through, God has done a major work in your heart. He’s peeled back a layer of your soul and revealed a gem of truth about himself and about yourself. Those truths are your treasures, the pearls of transformation in your life. He has something for you in this transition. Look for the next pearl to add to your strand. It will be there. […]

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