Posted by: donnatallman | October 31, 2011

Tunnels of Transition

Southern Iberia, Spain – Circa 1965


“Kids, here comes a tunnel; hold your breath!” Mom shouts from the front seat of the car. In a heartbeat, Dad drives our Opel station wagon right into the mouth of a mountain. Sandi, Randy, and I all gasp as the darkness quickly swallows us, and the warm summer day we had been enjoying is stolen by a sudden icy wind coming through the open windows.

Worrying that I have been captured by the mountain and will never see daylight again, I begin to cry.

“Shush,” Sandi scolds losing her breath, then quickly grabbing another.

“You shush!” I squawk back at her in the darkness.

I hate being told what to do. Just because I’m the baby of the family, everybody thinks they can always tell me what to do. I hate it.

“Look!” Dad says. It is a relief to know someone else is still alive in the car. No word from my mother, she’s probably unconscious.

“Look to the horizon, there’s the light,” Dad tells us. Sandi and Randy scoot up to see, but I am trapped on the seat and can’t see anything – not even my hand in front of my face.

“What’s the light from?” Randy asks.

“It’s the end of the tunnel,” answers my dad.

“I want to see. Let me see!” I holler.

“Shush,” Sandi says again.

She shouldn’t have said it. She just shouldn’t have said it.

“You’re not the boss of me!” I scream, right before I raise my five year-old fist and whack her. Right between the shoulder blades as hard as hard as I can, I whack her.

The end of the tunnel can’t come soon enough for me – or for my mother who is the only one who made it all the way through the tunnel holding her breath. Mom gasps for air just as the mountain regurgitates us back into daylight. After our eyes make the painful adjustment to the bright light, we are stunned by what we see; mountains surround us on all sides. When we entered the tunnel, we had been driving through flatlands and now, now it looks like we’re in a different country.

Tunnels of transition. They appear on the roadway of life with or without warning. We can be zooming through an easy segment of our journey when all of a sudden; we are swallowed whole by the darkness of a mountain. Thinking we can just hold our breath until the light returns, we may pass out from the distance and the difficulty when it turns out to be longer and harder than we thought.


Some of them are well advertised. An angel showed up in the temple to tell Zacharias that his infertile wife was going to give birth to a baby they would name John.

Bam! The mountain of doubt instantly gobbled up Zacharias.

Later, the angel Gabriel showed up to Mary in Luke, chapter one, saying, “You’re going to bear a son.”

Bam! The unexpected. She was an unmarried virgin. A righteous unmarried virgin who found out she was going to be the mother of the long awaited Messiah, but still, she was an unmarried virgin! How would Mary react?

The mountain of faith gobbled Mary.

Other transitions in Scripture are more subtle than angelic visitations. Jesus told servants at a wedding in the city of Cana to fill the water pots with water. He then turned it into wine. Jesus’ first miracle saved, not only the party; it honored the host, and launched Jesus’ public ministry. Friends of Lazarus rushed to tell Jesus that Lazarus was very ill. Jesus lingered. He stayed where he was two days “longer” than he had intended.

Transition. Subtle. Lazarus’ resurrection was on the horizon.

One of the most subtle transitions in scripture occurred in John 13:30 at the Last Supper. Jesus and His disciples were eating dinner when Jesus told them one of them would betray Him. He handed a piece of bread to Judas. Judas ate it and then hurried out. While Jesus and Judas recognized their moment of transition, the disciples did not. They were distracted by discussion.

Bam! Judas just betrayed the Son of God.

It wasn’t unexpected, though. Prophets had foretold the event long ago, but I doubt that knowledge lessened the excruciating pain of betrayal for Jesus at all.

We all travel through seasons of transition. Some are ginormous and joyful like graduating from high school, college, military training, getting your first “real” job, getting married, having your first child, your first puppy…well, okay maybe the puppy isn’t always joyful. Then, there are other moments of transition that are harder to handle – the loss of a job, a broken friendship, a divorce, the loss of a parent, a diagnosis, the loss of a spouse, the loss of health.

Jesus has been especially clear to me during my moments of transition. His voice often rises above all of the commotion and anxious soul noise that surrounds any change, but He rarely speaks above a whisper. I have to listen carefully.

We’re moving at the end of the month.

Bam! The unexpected. Transition. Course correction. Lurching onto a new roadway. Dangerous curves ahead!

Will the mountain of fear gobble me up, or the mountain of faith?

After eleven years of meeting with the most amazing writers every two weeks, I had my last official meeting with them on Saturday. Since I’ve led the group the last few years, it’s my job to restore the room to order when we’re done and turn off the lights as we leave. As I reached my hand over to turn the lights off for the very last time, I heard it. The whisper of my Master. He stood with me in that dark, empty room and flooded my soul with gratitude for all the years and all the miles I had travelled with these women. Jesus assured me there would be new people and new friends waiting in our new place; but He also entered my pain of saying goodbye and walked with me.

My sister has forbidden me to use the word “transition” anymore in my annual Christmas letter because my life has been in a constant state of transition for the last thirty-one years. I still use it anyway, because I like the idea of life transitions, and I love the connection Jesus and I have shared in those moments.

And, yes, I still use it because even though she’s three years older than me, my sister is still not the boss of me and I know it irritates her. Some things I’ll never outgrow!

Are you in a season of transition? Have you been gobbled by a mountain? Are there icy winds blowing in your face? How do you handle your tunnels of transition?

©Copyright, 2011 by Donna Tallman.



  1. I LOVE your writing, your words, your heart, your humor, your realness, your Jesus!! 🙂 So glad you’re writing for us all, emie

  2. Let me start by stating; I am soooo glad I was not part of that car trip! I am your sister too, and you love me – maybe because I don’t tell you what to do? 🙂
    You are an amazing woman, not because you are a superwoman, but because you are not, and are willing to share your vulnerability. You let us walk with you and as you point to the multitudes gone before us, and to Jesus, we are encouraged.

  3. I, too, feel like I am in a constant state of transition! New marriage…new job…and, yes, at this very moment my living room is full of moving boxes–AGAIN!! =) Sigh… Thanks for the reminder that Jesus is very real in these moments. I need to sit still in the midst of the chaos in order to hear his whisper. PS I didn’t know you guys were moving! Be blessed.

    • “I need to sit still in the midst of the chaos in order to hear his whisper…” Yes! I needed to hear that! In the midst of the chaos – it’s breaking out everywhere…isn’t it great to know that they chaos doesn’t bother God? Thanks Lisa!

  4. You were also in charge of the temperature in that room. Just thought I’d mention it.

  5. Donna
    I too, love your vulnerability and your ability to draw spiritual truth from the mundane -everyday -common life. As I think of transitions….I think more in the terms of seasons…I have lived with the same man, in the same house, doing the same thing-ranching-for 32 years, so there has been no transition of job or place for us. But instead there has been transition of position in the family….in relationships… we’re in the transition of seasons….from parenting to grand parenting….from being the youngest generation to being the oldest….transition is change….we’ve had plenty of that over the years…
    illness….death…births….marriages…in laws…..accidents…..people moving in and out of our lives….We’re in transition as we think of passing the baton of the family business…..continuing the ranching tradition by passing it on to the next generation…we face the ginormous burden of transition. We do not have have clarity of goals, we certainly do not have the answers or the solutions..we face doubt, fear and anxiety….We feel at times, more often than not, that we are in a black tunnel- being propelled by the momentum of life but not knowing where we are headed or if we are on the right track. We feel the icy cold darkness. We know we have to transition from being owners/ operators, to mentors/facilitators…encouragers.. cheerleaders….transitioning into more passive roles….retiring earlier….retiring from making all the decisions and being the “up front” – “go to” people… those who sit back and let others figure out the new future of family business, let others take the reins and figure out new ways to manage herd health, nutrition, breeding, new ways to make money by promoting and marketing a way of life that is rapidly disappearing from the American West…..we’re slowly preparing for the transition to the autumn season of our lives…when life slows down a bit, quieter and there is time to reflect and process all that we have lived….and maybe, just maybe, this transition will open other avenues for us to be useful, productive, and happy!

    • yes, the quiet transitions offer just as much challenge and change as do the big ones. Will be praying for all that is in front of you. Our times on the ranch are sweet, sweet memories for us! I hope cattle ranching doesn’t completely disappear, the peace and beauty of life’s rhythm there restores my soul and spirit!

  6. Wow… as usual. Donna, you have such a great voice in your writing. It really adds to your shared experiences, which you pick with such accuracy and impact. Thank you for all your insights; I hope to continue reading and hearing them.

  7. Your words are filled with humor and grace. Thanks for sharing. As for the tunnels of transition, they have taught me to buckle in with Jesus and hang on for the ride.

  8. As one of the writers fortunate enough to have shared the last few years with you in that room, I want to thank you for gracing us with your presence, your support, and your encouragement. It has been quite a journey made all the richer by knowing you.

    • Thanks, Adrianne, so great a journey, Eh? I will miss you all so very much!

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