Give Yourself Time to Bloom (lessons from a young magnolia tree)

I thought I had found the perfect spot for the young magnolia tree. I planted her in our front yard at the end of the white split-rail fence underneath the old elm that had been there when we bought the property. I tucked her into the hillside right at the turn into my driveway so I could enjoy her saucy blooms everytime I came home.

Springtime rolled around right on the heels of Lent as she always does. The world was waking up in the first blooms after winter. But my little magnolia only had one tiny bud that remained tightly closed.

This was not the evergreen Southern Magnolia from my childhood with those glossy dark green leaves and huge white blooms. I had planted the deciduous kind of magnolia that we always called a tulip tree because that is really what it looks like, a tree that laughed in tulips. It is called a saucer magnolia because the blooms look first like goblets and then as they open, more like cups and saucers.

I wondered if I had planted her in the wrong spot; if she needed more or less water, some fertilizer, or simply not known how to survive. I was bummed, but life was busy so I went back to it, planning another wedding, this time for our oldest daughter, and becoming a mother-in-law again.

When the next spring sprung there were maybe two blooms on my magnolia tree. Poor girl looked like she was struggling to make it. I read about planting saucer magnolias in the Pacific Northwest where I live to make sure I had planted her in the right spot. Yep, saucer magnolias like being tucked underneath older trees for a little protection and out of valleys where they are prone to freeze. I watered her and dusted her with barkdust.

And so it went. Year three she woke up in the spring with about three frail blooms. Of course, I was disappointed. I had seen them around town with huge canopies laden with blooms. I had hoped for this big show in all the hues of pink and lavender to welcome me home at the end of the day. Unsure what to do, if anything, I waited.

In the meantime, I became a Jojo and started rocking my first grandbaby born to my oldest son and his wife. I nicknamed him the Blueberry. Not six months later, Wonder number two was born to my oldest daughter and her husband. I nicknamed her Sweet Pea. Another year and a half later, and Wonder number three was born. That's Dyl Pickle. My hands got full of Wonders and I guess maybe I didn't notice my little tree for a couple of years.

Then it happened.

This year, which might be year seven, and which brought a wedding for our youngest daughter, and for Sweet Pea, a little brother I call Wyatt Cowboy, my little saucer magnolia tree came into her own.

I rounded the corner for home and there she was, still small as trees go but lit up with tulips, maybe 15 or 20 blooms in fuschia. One of my friends, a landscape architect, called them luscious and they did remind me of velvet. I think they looked like little butterflies flapping their new wings on the branch tips.


Sue Monk Kidd, the author of one of my favorite books, The Secret Life of Bees has much to say about waiting. She writes in her book When the Heart Waits,

"We tend to be long on butterflies and short on cocoons. Somehow we're going to have to re-learn the deep things of God."

I had forgotten that good things take time. I had lost sight of what happens in the dark waiting. It is not as if nothing is happening in the wait. (Didn't Lent just teach us that on the way to Easter?) Haven't I already learned that lesson? Quite a few years ago, Mike planted a row of fruit trees on the hillside in our backyard. We were trying to stabilize the hillside and bring a little shade. A few apples and pears would be nice. too. Now that I am thinking about it, it took a good three to five years before those branches held any fruit.

We live in a quick draw world full of the noise and hurried pace of life that can make us think nothing is happening if we can't see it. It was so easy for me to jump to conclusions about my tree being planted in the wrong place or not having it what it takes to thrive. I had expectations for big flowery things, and right away.

We can do that in life; think we are planted in the wrong place, or among the wrong people. And that can be true. But what if we just need more time. We can have big flowery expectations for things to happen fast and with visible progress. But we underestimate what is happening in our souls and what kind of time that good work takes. We can undervalue the long waiting. All of that waiting can feel like a long winter.

We may have felt that long winter of mamahood during the years of diapers, sleepless nights and children that need us endlessly. We may have felt that while waiting for love, or friendships, or even our marriages to blossom. Or maybe our working dreams to come true. We may have asked ourselves, will the next season ever arrive?


We have to diligently plant our good seeds whatever they might be, and water and wait. We may have to go do other things while we wait. Or we may simply have to develop some patience in our souls. Sue Monk Kidd continues,

"In soul making, we can't bypass the cocoon."

We sure want to fast forward through the dark season of growing on the inside. You have probably heard of well-meaning people who have tried to "help" butterflies escape their cocoon too soon, only to find that their wings never fully develop. Those caterpillars actually need the darkness to transform into butterflies. The struggle out of the cocoon is necessary to grow strong wings and fly.

Now, I can see that my young magnolia tree's roots needed some hidden time to grow and reach down far enough into the soil to support her coming blooms. And they were coming. That is what a young tree does in the first few years, grow roots to support later growth. And it comes with being a beginner.

Let's remind each other to be patient with whatever work God is doing. It might be in our gardens, in our marriages, families, or in our own souls. Whatever it is or wherever it is happening, we cannot hurry it or shorcut it.

"I think there must be a place inside us our dreams go and wait their turn."
Sue Monk Kidd

Our waiting doesn't have to be inactive. We can do what I did for my little magnolia. I noticed her. I made sure she was well planted, watered and dusted her roots with fresh barkdust almost every spring. And then I waited. I let her be a beginner. And while I waited, I simply attended to ordinary life. In her time, my young magnolia tree laughed in tulips.