During my time in Jordan, I’ve taken many photographs, images that, when I look back at them years from now, will bring back the feelings I felt in those places and with those people.
When I look at this picture, for example, I’ll remember sitting in the cold, purple sand in Wadi Rum at sunset. The rising rippled rock overhead reminded me of my smallness, and of God’s unimaginable greatness. And this was a lesson I needed to be reminded of. As I was sitting in the sand in Jordan, my first paid piece of writing was being published in the U.S., and I felt quite proud in what I had been able to do, what I had accomplished. But in those large, looming mountains, God had carved AMDG (Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam). He was telling me, “You wrote through my power, and for my glory—the greater glory of my creation.” This photo will remind me of humility.
When I look at this photo I’ll remember walking the streets of downtown Amman, a crowded area filled with shops and stands, sweets and smoky rug shops. I’ll remember a feeling described so well by Paulo Coehlo in his book, Aleph, which I began reading when I arrived in Jordan: This is exactly what I need to do right now: walk, walk, walk, breathe some fresh air, take a look at a city I’ve never visited before, and enjoy the feeling that it’s mine. This photo will remind me of the homey comfort I can find, even in new places.
But some of my most beautiful experiences here have not been caught on camera. Photographing them would have taken away my ability to fully participate in the experience, and or would have caused others to become unnatural or nervous.
Still, I want to preserve these images and the bits of Truth that often accompanied them. And I can do that best by writing them down. Over the next few months, I’m going to collect these images and share them here, in a series called “Peeling Oranges.”
This title comes from one image during a cloudy afternoon last week. As I rounded the corner and turned into my neighborhood, I heard the chatter of young children playing in the street.
“Jordan!” One of them called—my 10-year-old host brother.
“Do you want a part of this orange?” I asked him in Arabic. I pulled it out of my bag, hungry for a snack.
I split it among him and his friends, who hovered shyly against the wall. I handed a slice to a boy with a pink, scarred hand, and to a little girl who chewed on the empty plastic cylinder of an oversized pixie-stick.
My fingers cold and covered in sticky juice, I peeled the orange and placed the rind on the crumbly sidewalk, the bright color of the skin contrasting sharply against the grayish brown of the cement.
We chatted for a bit, I asked their names, and scooped up the rind from the ground. The encounter was short, and seemingly unimportant to those who may have been watching. But sometime during those few moments—in my host brother’s joking, in the hesitant looks of the little ones, and the juice seeping between my fingers—something else was making itself known.
I had a feeling, an awareness, that this simple moment was important, even extraordinary, precisely because of its ordinariness.
It should be no surprise to me that God continues to reveal himself in the most ordinary ways. It’s a concept that I think and write about a lot. But each time, I’m still taken off guard. Each time, the revelation seems at once familiar and new, comforting yet challenging.
More often during my first month in Jordan, I’ve been thrown off my feet not by picturesque views from mountain tops but by peeling oranges with children.
These brief, fleeting, ordinary moments, despite their power, can easily be lost. I don’t want these images—and the love I feel—to fade. And that’s why I write.