What makes a Steel Magnolia?

By Lainie Stubblefield

If you’ve seen the movie Steel Magnolias, then maybe you thought this was just a cute name they came up with for Dolly Parton and her friends, but this term describes much more than a group of southern gals gabbing in a beauty shop. A steel magnolia, in my opinion, is one of the highest compliments you could give someone. 

One who has the strength of steel with the grace of a magnolia. So often in entertainment we see portrayals of a person being one or the other.  But it is possible to walk with both. The feminist movement has caused the mindset of many women to be so strongly independent that we don’t need any help. Claiming that we can do everything men can do, and do it even better. Personally, I think we need each other and that we are better serving side-by-side.

What are some of the characteristics of a Steel Magnolia? The grit to do hard things, the heart attitude of thankfulness, the moral compass to love others more than self, a desire to make your surroundings lovely and share what you have as well as spreading a lovely aroma wherever you go,  just to name a few. Those qualities transcend income level, upbringing and outward appearance.  Those qualities can even be held by men or women…though some dudes might prefer a different name other than a flower…maybe a Steel Cypress. Not sure if I could get that to stick though.  

I believe you have to walk through some hard things to become a Steel Magnolia. I remember touring vineyards in Napa Valley and being told that the best wine comes out of rocky soil. The roots have to work really hard to push through. This causes the branches to be stronger and the fruit to be more flavorful. Pressing on through the difficulty. Not ignoring that it is hard, but keeping your focus on the light at the end of the tunnel. Sounds a lot like what John wrote in his Gospel about remaining in the vine that is Jesus, in order to bear good fruit.  

We need each other. No one can journey this life well, all alone. We all have good days and hard days, mountaintop seasons and valley seasons. Some valley seasons seem to last longer than we can bear. That is why we need family, friends and a faith community to press on through to the other side. In the moments of disillusionment, loss and catastrophe we simply must encourage one another. Even in the beautiful movie Steel Magnolias, M’Lynn, played by Sally Field, needed her established friendships to make it through her traumatic season.  

This is why God placed us in families and encourages us to be a part of a local worship community. It is His great wisdom and love for us that made it so. Psalm 68:6 says that “God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun scorched land.” To me, this says that even in our broken world made up of broken people, God always gives us a choice to be in community with others and to be filled with songs even in the midst of difficult circumstances. But we also have the choice, in our own rebellion, to let the intense heat of our difficulties scorch out our joy.  

It is only through Christ that we are able to love others more than ourself. That goes against our self-preservation nature. It especially takes divine intervention to love those who think differently than we do. But, that is what we are called to do as Christians, and I think that is a mark of a Steel Magnolia. Opening your door, sharing what you have and giving a listening ear to those who cross our path are all traits of hospitality. That is different than entertaining those that you like a lot; which let’s be honest is easy and anyone can do that.  

I also mentioned the quality of making things around you lovely. I simply mean, thinking about what you can do, regardless of budget, to make your space comfortable and inviting.  Bringing in cuttings of flowers from your yard, setting the table with lovely dishes and having a candle burning to make the light ambient. This is also part of hospitality and caring for those around you. One of the best ways to think through how to love someone well, is to put yourself in their shoes and think about what they make need or enjoy.  

When I mention spreading a lovely aroma, I don’t mean having the right perfume. I am talking about the aroma of grace and life. We all know that smells can cause us to have reactions for the good or the bad. Have you ever been around someone who is full of bitterness and resentment? Those qualities certainly have an odor that can be repulsive. What about the aroma of someone who is quick to forgive and quick to serve with the grace of Jesus?   Everywhere we go there is a spreading of our aroma in the atmosphere. A magnolia blossom is known for its beautiful, sweet and alluring fragrance. We can choose what fragrance we will walk in and spread to the world. 

Grace and Grit, Femininity and Fortitude…together, they truly do make for a Steel Magnolia!

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  1. Any woman can be a Steel Magnolia. A Steel Magnolia does not let the tragedies of life turn her into a depressed or bitter person. She carries on in spite of everything with grace and dignity.

    I love your paragraph about the vineyards in Napa: “The best wine comes out of rocky soil. The roots have to work really hard to push through. This causes the branches to be stronger and the fruit to be more flavorful.”

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