It was perfect. He sighed with satisfaction and stepped back to survey his masterpiece. It had taken three weeks, two truckloads of lumber, and one set of miniature furniture–but it was finished– and he couldn’t wait to see the look on her face.
“A tree house!” she squealed, eyes lighting up like an Independence Day sky. “For me!?”
“Just for you!” he replied, boasting a smile that matched his little girl’s.
For a moment she just stared, clinging to his leg in disbelief. “Can I go in it?” she asked carefully, as if by saying the words too loudly she might somehow make it go away.
“Of course!” he laughed, taking her by the shoulders and guiding her gently forward. She looked back up at him for instant, grinned, and then took off, white sun-dress billowing behind her. He crossed his arms and watched, face glowing with anticipation.
She skidded to a stop at the base of the thick oak and threw back her neck to scope the distance. “That’s a long way up,” she swallowed. Her fingers ran along a smooth rung of the tall wooden ladder. “1..2..3..” she tried counting the steps but couldn’t. There were too many.
Maybe she should ask… she looked back at her father. No, she would show him she could do it herself. With a grunt of determination she kicked off her polka-dotted flip flops and hoisted herself up onto the first rung.
The first few steps were easy. “See, not so bad,” she told herself. She swung her load of curls around and faced her audience, hoping for a nod of affirmation.
But he said nothing, only stood there, watching with his arms crossed. Hmmm, she mused. Maybe I’m not climbing fast enough.
Her little arms quivered with effort as she cleared the next four steps in what seemed like one swift motion. There, she paused, breathing heavily. That ought to make him proud! Again she turned, expecting some sort of applause.
Nothing. He just watched.
She frowned. “What am I doing wrong?” she wondered. “I know, maybe he’s waiting until I get to the top!” Her hands adjusted their grip on the now-what-seemed slippery rung. “Well, I’ll show him.”
The next two steps seemed harder than before and when she reached for the third her foot slipped. She had to catch herself to keep from falling.
“You allright?” he shouted, taking a step forward.
“Yeah, I’m fine!” she tried to sound extra cheerful, though by the way her hands were trembling it was obvious she was shaken.
“Ok,” he sounded doubtful. “But I’m here if you need me.”
She didn’t answer. “Does he think I can’t do it? Does he thing I’m too small?” Her eyes loomed on the platform above her. Somehow it seemed even farther up than it had when she started.
She tried to take a step but was suddenly overcome with dizziness.
“Well maybe,” she said, “You could stand at the bottom, just in case…” her words trailed off. She waited as he confidently strode over and took his position below her.
“Just in case!” she re-iterated.
“I know,” he nodded.
She breathed a sigh and looked up again. “Just a little bit farther,” she reassured herself, though her eyes told her differently. Maybe if she closed them…
Just one more step, just one more step, she felt her way blindly upwards. Just one more step, just one more… Suddenly there was only air where the next rung should have been. Her hands clawed wildly for the railing, knees smacking against the bars below her. She slid a few agonizing feet before coming to a stop. Splinters dug up into her palms and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out.
“You ok!?” his concerned voice reached her from below.
“I’m fine!” she snapped, head swimming in pain. She tried to say something else but couldn’t because of the lump that clogged her throat. “What’s the matter with me? He built this whole tree house for me and I can’t even climb up the ladder!”
She leaned her head up against the trunk to gather her breath. “I can do this!” With squared shoulders she gritted her teeth and lunged upward.
Her fingers brushed the bar above her just before her legs gave out. This time she screamed.
Her father stood ready and waiting, arms open wide, but she didn’t fall, only hung there, dangling on the last edge of her strength.
She opened her eyes then wished she hadn’t. Her vision ran in a blur of running colors and bleeding lines. Up- and- down had no meaning. She couldn’t move.
Knees throbbing and hands burning, her heart pounded out the defeated realization- No I can’t.
“Daddy!!!” she cried. “Help me!”
It didn’t seem like a single second passed before she felt his comforting and strong arms grab her about the waist. She let go to wrap her little legs around him and bury her head in his neck.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” she sobbed, letting her tears soak through his shirt. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do it!”
That’s when she realized that his shoulders were shaking too–but not with sobs.
She pulled back to look him in the face. He chuckled and used a gentle thumb to wipe away one of her tears. “You never had to.” He whispered.
She lowered her eyes and traced her fingers along his chest. “But I thought, but I just wanted…” she stammered.
He cupped her chin in his hand and raised her gaze to meet his own. “You don’t have to be big enough,” and the way he looked at her told it was true. “I love you just the way you are…. and you are mine.”
She sniffed, the slightest trace of a smile making its way across her lips.
“This is why I made the tree house,” he explained. “So I could carry you up the steps.”
She furrowed her brow in confusion. He laughed and moved his face so close to hers that their noses almost touched. Then he paused before saying, “So we could go there… together.”
The corners of her mouth trembled, then turned up into a giant grin. She threw her arms around his neck and turned to whisper in his ear. “Daddy, you’re my favorite part about my tree-house!”
I don’t know if anyone else has ever smiled the way He did just then.
So they climbed, Father and daughter, together. And she wasn’t afraid anymore, because all she had to be was his little girl.
That was his favorite part.
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
2 Corinthians 12:9-10