As Daraja staff, we all joked about living “in the bubble” for 7 months while we were on tour. Let me tell you, it’s a real thing. I was oblivious to what was going on in the current news, was completely behind on the latest episodes (probably seasons) of my favorite shows and had no idea what “UpTown Funk” was when I stepped off our glorious tour bus that last day in April. My life from September 2014 to April 2015 was comparable to a modern-day Narnia. We stepped through the wardrobe that day we picked the kids up at the Atlanta airport…no turning back. Burn the ships. Just like that I became a mother overnight to 23 world changers. It was the most exciting yet extremely terrifying feeling I have experienced so far in my 22 years on this Earth. The fact that The Lord had entrusted me to care for someone else’s child and their delicate heart (times 23) was slightly overwhelming to say the least. There was absolutely no way I could do this in my own strength…I couldn’t even begin to fake it.
Over the course of our 6 month tour we visited 23 states, had 90+ concerts and stayed in what seems like a million host homes—where we witnessed beautiful transformations all around us. From host homes sharing testimonies of how their world’s were turned upside down (in the best way possible!) because of Jesus shining through Daraja to our own kids understanding what it means to live out a surrendered life— it was undeniable that God was at work every second.
As tour went on, there was a refining that was going on inside on me as well. The Lord began peeling back the layers in my own heart and revealed things to me that I have never noticed before. There is something about being led in pure, genuine worship 3-4 times a week that leaves you extremely vulnerable. There was something about living in this Narnia-like world, free from distractions. There was an unraveling that was taking place and it scrubbed me to the core.
Fast forward a bit and it’s been a month and half since we dropped our wewes home (reaching for the tissues as I type) and I miss them so much it physically hurts some days. I often find myself looking at pictures and videos at night when I miss them the most just so I can hear their voices. Most days it seems like a dream that I got to be their auntie and it takes me a few minutes to realize it was all real life. I’m finally getting to a place now where I can talk about what I’ve learned or hear a tour worship song without welling up as much (not sure that feeling will ever go away).
When I reflect on my time with Daraja, it’s obvious that I miss the kids more than any words can express. I miss the way they pronounce my name with with 3 syllables, “Auntie Car-o-lee”. I miss Lucy’s lisp. I miss them wanting to brush my hair every night before bed (which is just the best!). I miss their contagious laughter and non-stop singing on the bus. And Susan always forgetting where she is while she worships her heart out to “Whom Shall I Fear”.
But if you asked me what I think I miss the most, I would say the culture of it all. Not the American culture, not the African culture, but the Jesus culture that was “the bubble”. The anointed environment that urged me to rely on God every single second— for godly parenting wisdom, extending grace towards host homes, for straight up divine strength on days that I couldn’t keep my eyelids open, and the list goes on. It was in this distraction-free world that made it so easy and natural to draw closer to God and to engage Him in everything.
I’m not going to lie, there was quite a transition period as I returned to some state of normalcy back in Florida. America is excessive, no one can deny that and things began to get cloudy. I had a car again, I was in charge of the food I ate (confession—still missing the endless host home pancakes), I could go wherever I wanted– whenever I wanted, I could wear the clothes in my closet, I could work-out again!! All of this seemed so freeing the first few days back—my independence had returned! But after a few days, the hashtag struggle was real. Every decision became overwhelming and life got busier and busier by the second (which I don’t even know how that’s possible after living life on the road for 7 months). I felt extremely lonely and felt like nobody understood me. Anxiety began to set in and I was a completely different Carlee.
How could I have this absolute mountaintop experience only to return depressed? The lies had officially become louder than the truth. The transformed tour Carlee had gone and I didn’t recognize myself—a complete stranger. I noticed I was inching towards filling my life with successes and it was weighing me down. Which is completely cray cray because I genuinely had never felt like this on tour— where every decision, every action was eternally focused and driven. How was it possible that I took what felt like 10 steps backwards in just a few short days? After praying so hard (for months!) for this transition back into “society”, how could this happen?
Leaving tour was so much harder than I anticipated, it was no doubt the most fulfilling experience ever, one of my long time dreams and passions. After a few days of feeling empty, I was challenged by a dear friend to go back to Africa in my heart and mind. To recalibrate. To ask God to remind me of my purpose and passions (that I somehow forgot when tour ended). To get back to the basics. To look for Jesus in everything again. I once heard one of my favorite pastors call it a “Costco Jesus” moment. How we are supposed to engage and seek Jesus in everything—even things as mundane as trips to the grocery store. The tour Carlee had been so good at this. I lived it for 7 months–day in, day out.God had graciously given me a sweet taste of this in the “Narnia bubble”, and now it was up to me to go back through the wardrobe and find it in my own world.
The question I’ve been asking myself lately has been, “What if the purpose for experiencing the beautiful Daraja culture, simply living it and breathing it— was so I can better recognize it and run hard after it in my world when I return?”. Isn’t that what Jesus ultimately did? He humbly came down to Earth to show us there’s a much better way to live—for eternal purposes. Now that we know what that looks like (from His perfect example), it’s up to me to wake up every day and go after it. I let the world weigh me down when I should have just fixed my eyes on the things above. The pressure is all off when we just look up. I’m re-learning that everyday.
All of this to say, that God is so incredibly faithful and it’s completely by His amazing Grace that I am able to look back and learn from all of this with a renewed heart and mindset. What the enemy intended for self destruction and evil, was used for His glory. My closest friends would tell you that I am not normally this vulnerable, but I can honestly say I didn’t deserve this experience if I wasn’t stretched or didn’t share it with others.
My time as “Auntie Carlee” with Daraja has been the most fulfilling experience and I will never stop thanking God that He chose me to love and disciple those 23 world changers—who by the way are already huge making waves in their community!
How has your experience with Daraja shifted your heart’s focus?
Written by: Carlee McDonald (2014/15 Daraja Intern)