When my husband and I first got married, we lived in a small 1940’s house in Atlanta. We bought the house thinking we would renovate it, but it would end up renovating us. It was a stubborn house and had been poorly maintained. We wrestled with it for years, using our savings to fix problem after problem. There were mice and plumbing issues. On and on the list went.
All the while, as we wrestled this house, fought with each other and accepted it was a beast that couldn’t be tamed, there was a tree, a tree that stood on our narrow street, too large and too regal for her place in the world. The tree occupied most of the small patch of yard in front of our house.
There was a tree, a tree that stood on our narrow street, too large and too regal for her place in the world.
She was tall, proud and mostly ignored, until our frustration turned to her. There are no garages in most city houses, and ours was no exception. We could barely fit our cars in the narrow driveway, and the tree stretched over it dropping sticky sap. It was nearly impossible to remove, and we must have ordered every cleaning product ever produced to remove it.
We started to notice the tree, and we were annoyed with her. She was simply being a tree—with sap, leaves that fell and branches that snapped in the wind. We noticed her but only in the ways she inconvenienced us.
She was a busy tree, always producing. I just didn’t know or understand what she was doing. Through our old windows, we would hear things dropping from her limbs—cracks and bangs on our metal roof. I’d sometimes lie awake at night listening to that sound, anxious about the beating our cars were taking.
I had no idea what was falling out of the tree. I was too busy to notice or care. I was making a life, wrestling with a house and becoming a mom soon. There she stood, quietly, frustratingly grand.
There she stood, quietly, frustratingly grand.
She was a beautiful tree, by the way. Tall and proud. With no one else around her, you could see the full shape of her grandeur that had witnessed decades of people coming and going in the old house by the train yard.
I’m embarrassed to say my ignorance and disinterest were unchanged for years. Until, as often is the case, children’s curiosity made me stop and take notice. After I had my first two children, they’d play in the yard as toddlers, and they started picking up what she’d dropped. My toddlers were fascinated.
“What are these?” they’d ask in their tiny voices, “Can we eat them?”
With a bit of internet research, we discovered they were beautiful, tasty, Georgia pecans. This beautiful tree had been dropping gifts all over our yard for years.
So we made a pie. We went out into the front yard under our big beautiful tree and, with bowls, gathered up all of the pecans we could find. We bent down gathering up all she made into our metal kitchen bowls. The kids loved it. I loved it. It was blissful.
Our bowls full of her pecans we went inside, and I swear you could see her wink. We finally got it. We finally understood who she was.
We finally got it. We finally understood who she was.
We cracked open the pecans and, together with my babies, I made my first pecan pie. We were little urban farmers. She gave me something else too, one of the most beautiful memories I have with my kids in that tiny kitchen.
When we moved to a different house, I would miss her and the lesson she taught me. Beauty and worth were right under my nose or I should say towering lovingly over my head day-after-day as I scurried by too preoccupied to care.
The worth of a tree, of an object, of a person, is not contingent on whether other people notice it. We often think that being noticed will give us worth or make us feel good. The truth is the crowds don’t satisfy the longing for approval or validation because worth is inherent. That tree was glorious and abundant the whole time I ignored it. It was just me who needed to catch up to the reality that already existed.
The truth is the crowds don’t satisfy the longing for approval or validation because worth is inherent.
Your worth already exists. You are the tree. Maybe someone has noticed your beauty, your fruit or maybe not. Yet, that doesn’t change the truth.
The only thing I miss about that house is the tree. I want to hug her and tell her I am sorry I never noticed her and tell her thank you for everything she taught me. I would say the same to you: I am sorry if there have been people or seasons in your life when your worth and beauty were ignored. I would tell you thank you for standing in who you are.
Let’s be like the tree together, standing tall in our beauty, worth and the fruit of our work whether anyone notices or not. The truth is still the truth.
Do you sometimes depend on the approval or applause of others to feel valuable? How can you learn to embrace your inherent worth?
Image via Raisa Zwart