Small & Simple Things: The Magic Geranium

magic geranium

Note:  I remember my father using this story in a talk when I was young. It stayed with me. I looked for it, but the versions I found online were few, and not how I remembered it from 40 years ago – so I re-wrote it. If you are the original author of this story, I apologize, and hope that you rest in peace, because it is really old.

What got me thinking about this story is that every once in a while I get a flurry of comments questioning my intent with a blog post. This concerned is expressed in many different ways, but the basic thought is this:  “You are focusing on such small things when there are much more important parts of the gospel that need our attention.” 

My response is simply this:
“Now you may suppose this is foolishness in me; but behold, I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass… (Alma 37:6)

The Magic Geranium

Joan sat down at the kitchen table. The morning was just beginning, and she was already exhausted. The kids were gone to school, and she was thinking about going back to bed. But that would take more energy than she had. She picked at a partially eaten piece of toast that had been left on the table, and surveyed the room. It was a mess, but she really didn’t care. There were plates on the table – some from this morning, most from last night. The sink was full of dishes, the trash can filled to the top.

But the mess wasn’t all new. One of cabinets was broken, and the knob on one of the drawers was missing. The curtains were dusty, but thankfully they hid the dirty windows. The more she looked around the room, the better bed was sounding. Or TV. But she knew that she would have to walk past the kid’s rooms and the laundry room to get there, and that would only make her feel worse.

Yeah, it was bad. And Joan knew it.

A noise at the front door woke her from her thoughts. She heard the doorbell ring and the sound of some hurried footsteps as they retreated.

Joan just sat there. Probably some salesman. Eventually, her curiosity overpowered her lethargy, and she went to the door.  No one was there.  As she turned to shut the door, she noticed something on the ground. She picked it up, and looked down the street to see who had left it. The street was quiet.

Joan went back to the kitchen table and sat down with the gift. It was a flower. A geranium in a little clay pot. It was red with a single bloom containing many tiny flowers. Attached was a small note, tied to the pot with a piece of twine.  It read:

“This is a Magic Geranium. Please Take Good Care of It.”

“Magic. Right.”, scoffed Joan. She set the pot in the middle of the messy table, folded her arms, and stared at it.

“Well, do something! Let’s see some magic.”  But the flower just stood in its little pot, in the center of the table. Joan knew there was no magic to be found here, but she was willing to concede that it was a pretty flower – bright, healthy, fresh. The little flower looked out of place on the messy table, so Joan stacked up the dishes on the table and carried them to the sink. She dug out a washcloth and rinsed it out. The least she could do was to wipe off the table to let the little flower be seen without the gunk.

It looked nice. It was good to see the clean table.  Joan sat back down and looked at the flower again. Something stirred inside her. The chairs weren’t meant to be  a clothesline, so she stood up and gathered the clothes hanging from the backs of the chairs, and pushed them in. Much better.

She stood with the armload of laundry looking around where to put them. “Well, since I already have them, I might as well put them straight into the wash.” So she did.

Upon returning to the kitchen, she smiled at the flower sitting in the center of the clean table. But the new contrast made her notice how dirty the floor was, – so she grabbed a broom. The impact was dramatic, and a bit embarrassing. Things were beginning to look better, and the stirring now felt a little bit like excitement.

With the table, chairs, and floor finished, the counter and sink looked completely ridiculous. Joan tackled them with an energy she hadn’t felt for a while. Before she knew it, she was standing on the counter, taking down the curtains and washing the windows. And so went her morning – and her afternoon.

Joan glanced at the clock and couldn’t believe how the time had flown. She hurriedly returned the clean curtains to the windows.  As she was climbing down from the counter, she caught her reflection in the clean glass. She was taken aback: She was still in her pajamas, her morning hair hanging in her face. She looked deeply tired – but behind the tired she could see the beginnings of a fire that she thought had gone out long ago. She looked at the clock again and determined that she had time to get cleaned up, and throw one more load of clothes in the washer before the school bus rolled up.

She made it. She sat down at the table, tired – but a good tired. The house was clean and fresh. She felt clean, fresh, and proud. She was proud of herself, and was already making plans for the next day. Joan reached out and pulled the geranium over to her.

“This is a Magic Geranium”, she repeated aloud. “Yes, yes it is.”

(Oh, oh!  One more thing:  Alma 32)

About the author


  1. Can I use this story for a devotional? I may not check back to see your response…let me know on Facebook. 🙂 You’re awesomeness is awesome. 🙂

  2. I know another story, a Chinese fable, that this reminds me of, only something snowballs in a bad way and the caution is to watch out for the beginning. Let me see if I can find it, and if I can’t, I’ll send you a note with my version.

  3. It’s just like your “2011 4th Quarter Comeback”. You had a bigger picture goal to make the year better, but you couldn’t achieve anything until you figured out what the little steps were to make it happen. Nice.

  4. In the version I remember, the husband was also contemplating leaving, and changed his mind when he came home to a clean house and dinner on the table. Not only that, the landlord came over with plans to evict them, but noticed that things were looking up so he gave them another chance!

    I love the idea of the snowball effect, and the forest vs. the trees discussion. Little things really do make a difference. Thanks for sharing!

  5. I think she should have waited until her husband and kids came home and had them all help her. And then she would kill the geranium. Oh wait. That’s how the story would go at my house. I’m not real good with plants.

    1. Geraniums are pretty tough to kill. Just when you think they’re dead….they bloom anyway. We lived on a ranch for awhile, and we cut back a huge rogue geranium that had taken over 3 or 4 rosebushes. We took all the branches out to the “back 40” to decompose with last year’s christmas tree. Eight months later, we went back to dispose of another Christmas tree, and the geraniums were blooming like mad. The branches had rooted themselves and just started growing here. It was cool, in kind of creepy sort of way, lol.

  6. Your story brought tears to my eyes. I know so many sisters who struggle with depression and feeling overwhelmed. What a difference a small and simple thing can make in an attitude and once an attitude is adjusted, miracles are bound to happen.

  7. I actually wrote about something similar last month that I had learned –the snowball effect, really. How it can be true for the good things (I’ll just wash ONE dish…) or the bad (I’ll just sit here on the internet for 5 minutes…).

    I have to admit, MMM, that when I read your blog, I wonder if we’re related. Cut from the same cloth, for sure (when it comes to this kind of stuff). The only difference is that you seem to have refined the ability to clarify without sounding like a jerk. I, on the other hand…

    Funny thought: when I read it was about a geranium, my first thought was “those things can be neglected forever and bloom like crazy!” and then I read your post and the reference to Alma 32 and I realized that probably WASN’T the point you were going for. Ha! 😉

  8. Great story. It reminds me of one I heard years ago in Relief Society about a visiting teacher who was impressed to take a rose to one of the ladies on her beat. This woman was depressed and unmotivated because of a lack of love she felt from her husband. The result of the flower was the same- ended up getting her out of a funk and she cleaned and made her house a home again.

    In the end you find that her husband had been contemplating leaving her and finally decided he’d break it to her that night. He prayed that the Lord would show him a reason to stay since he’d been looking for one for many months and was finally just tired. When he came home and found his wife happy, and the house a home it jump started a new attitude for both of them…

    BTW, I grabbed your button and am using it wisely. On my side bar under “places I like to hang-out”. I’m newer to your blog but am enjoying it immensely. Thanks.

  9. Actually this does work. And here I thought my husband just liked buying me flowers… Lol now I see what he was really getting at!

  10. My wife and I are both more detail oriented. I think the primary focus should be on the details because eventually, by small things great things come to pass. Take the sister in the story. If their household had a habit of everyone picking up after themselves and a simple chore list, she wouldn’t have been sitting there overwhelmed by the disorder in the house. It doesn’t mean that we should lose sight of the bigger picture, but the journey to the CK begins with the first step, and those step are small and simple.

  11. I wonder if this story was originally in the old Relief Society magazine. I read my mother’s copy each month until 1971 when the Ensign, New Era and The Friend began publishing. Thanks for sharing it, it was just the motivation I needed this morning.

  12. Love this. I’ve been studying compassionate service this week (since that’s my new calling and I have to do training on Sunday, yikes). I read a talk called Compassionate Service: with or without the Casserole. I recommend it to everyone. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most and will make the biggest difference. Big things are important, but we should never forget the small things.

  13. My husband and I had a conversation like this a few months ago. His thought was why worry about all the tiny details of the church and the commandments when there is such a bigger picture to be seen. Focus on testimony building and charity and the pure love of Christ and forgiveness and other big ideas. My thought was how will we ever get to charity and Zion and all that if no one can be bothered to dress modestly or pay tithing or keep the Sabbath Holy and all those other little details. If you work hard on the little things, the big things come naturally. He had the opposite take, if you keep your focus on the big picture, the little things won’t be obstacles or points of discontent or reasons to argue in Sunday school. I guess we are both right but I like my way better.
    I think it is just a product of our personalities- he sees the forest and I see the trees. He can tell you how we will be retiring at age 50 and how much he will be making in five years, but can’t tell you how much money we have to spend on groceries this month. I can tell you what we need to pay the bills now, but have no idea what is in the 401K. That’s why we’re married and will get there together.
    The church works the same way I guess, with big picture people and details people all doing their best and working together, we can all get there.

    1. Really interesting thoughts. I think more like you – I sweat the small stuff. Too we use the “Big Picture” argument to justify not paying attention to the details. But, then again, we use the “Small Stuff” argument to avoid focusing on the “weightier matters of the law”.

      I am more of a mind that we have to do BOTH. We need to focus on the details and their place in the big picture. If we claim to focus on the big things, but ignore the little ones, we call that “sin”.

Add your 2¢. (Be nice.)

%d bloggers like this: