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Lessons Learned from a Lemon Tree

After years of struggle, a woman finds love and happiness in her backyard.

Karen Zindric and her lemon tree

I grew up in Hawaii, where I canoed in the sparkling waters, hung my laundry in the sun and plucked ripe avocadoes. Being close to nature was like food for my soul. So I was thrilled to discover my new husband Werner’s house in California had a backyard full of birds, butterflies and trees—including our very own lemon tree! I imagined us picking and cooking with its juicy fruit, and taking shade under its leafy limbs.

Then I went to take a closer look at the tree. What a mess! The branches were twisted and tangled and sagged so low to the ground that no sunlight broke through. It sat surrounded by patches of dirt. Steel rods and cords had been used at some point to hold up the branches, but now the cords were embedded in the bark and strangling the tree. The leaves were bug-infested. Oh, and the lemons? Most of them were deformed or rotten.

“Honey, I’ve tried to help that tree, but I think it might be a lost cause,” said Werner. Yet somehow I felt called to save the lemon tree. Maybe that’s because there was a time when I was a lost cause too.

Seven years earlier my first marriage ended and I moved from Hawaii to southern California. I stayed with friends and started my own business—a Polynesian entertainment company. We performed Hawaiian hula dances at Hollywood events. I loved all the attention we got—especially from men. I longed to find love again, and I decided I didn’t need God’s help. I had my dat­ing life under control.

Only I didn’t. I dated all the wrong guys. Desperate to find true love, I signed up for an online matchmaking service. That’s where I found Werner and we set up a date…but I canceled on him because the night before I’d gone to dinner with a guy I was sure was Mr. Right. Turns out he was Mr. Not Even Close. One night I found myself praying, God, I was so wrong. I need you. I swore off dating. I decided it would be just God and me for a while.

A few weeks later a message popped up in my inbox. “Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving. Fondly, Werner.” I felt my face flush. Werner had been so gracious when I canceled on him at the last minute. I wanted to see him, but I couldn’t bring myself to date again. No way. Still, that night I prayed about it.

I woke the next morning to a voice that was loud and clear. “Respond to him,” it said. Deep in my heart I knew that God had sent Werner to me. I replied to his e-mail. Soon we met in person and fell in love, and within six months we were married.

I felt healthy and whole—and incredibly blessed. God had given me a second chance. Couldn’t I do the same for one of his creations?

So I began to work on the lemon tree. A little at a time so it wouldn’t go into shock. One by one I trimmed the heavy-laden branches. As they fell to the ground, they reminded me of all the bad choices I’d made in the past falling away. Later I released some of the cords. I couldn’t help but think about how I’d been released from being so foolish and freed to reconnect with God.

One day I laid my hands on the tree and said a little prayer. Lord, this lemon tree is a lot like how I used to be—it’s damaged and hopeless and needs lots of love. Please help me bring it back to life.

A few months later I noticed something: New fruit had grown in and this time all of the lemons were whole and healthy. The branches had opened up, letting sunlight through.

Today, seven years after I first saw that sad, mangled lemon tree, it stands tall and magnificent. It grows juicy yellow lemons that Werner and I cook with and put in gift baskets for neighbors and friends (pickled lemons are the biggest hit). And its strong limbs are covered with shiny green leaves, perfect for taking shade under.

“I can’t believe how far that tree has come!” Werner marvels. “You did an amazing job.”

It wasn’t just me. The lemon tree and I are living proof that anything can grow and blossom in the hands of the One who nurtures us all.   

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