Once upon a time, there was a little boy who loved adventures. He wanted to be brave and strong, he wanted to be a hero. So one day he asked his daddy for permission to have his own great adventure… to make his name as a hero. His Father smiled. Yes, this little boy was made for adventure. And so the boy set out in the woods with only his freckles, snaggle-toothed smile, and a great big, twisted old walking stick.
At first, the sun shone brightly through the trees and the breeze ruffled the little adventurer’s sweet clean blond hair. He raced along the trail with new brown hiking boots that made him feel extra tough, jumping the big roots along the path and feeling his chest swell with pride as his feet slid with speed along unexpected rocks, and he came to a halt still standing. He was going to be good at this… this adventuring business. This is what he had always wanted, this is what he was made for.
The boy stopped for a moment to catch his breath, he was proud that he had run so far so quickly. He was surprised his daddy had so easily agreed to let him find his adventure. But then he wondered, what exactly was his adventure, anyway? He was happy to come so far and feel so strong, but he needed to do something big, to show just how good of a hero he really was. He needed a great big story to tell his great big daddy, and make him so very proud.
He stood up again, grabbed his walking stick and continued along the path. The woods were getting thicker and the sun only shone in little peeks through the leaves now, making little golden puddles along the dirt trail. The trees had just started to turn beautiful colors and they made his adventure more interesting, and more like the story in his mind and that made him smile. It was like he always imagined it. He was going to be the hero, he would do something great, and then he would live happily ever after. He heard a rustling sound and turned to see a little squirrel, greedily piling more acorns than he could possibly carry and fussing as they one by one rolled down a little bank. The boy laughed at this silly little squirrel, so upset by his small problem. He knew how it felt. Just the other day his daddy said he could have a “handful of jellybeans” so he dug in the bag and he grabbed them until they spilled over the sides of his fist and dropped all over the floor. The more he chased them, they more they fell. He gathered the straying acorns and put them closer to the squirrel who ran from the little blond haired hero fussing angrily, and the boy set off again looking for his adventure.
He walked and he walked and he walked. Up hills and down them again. Over rocks and leaves and roots, until after a little while he started to get tired of figuring out what the adventure was supposed to be. He looked up and saw a great big ditch in the way ahead. Here at last, he thought, was something big. He could handle this. Nothing would get in the way of this hero’s adventure! He took a deep breath, scrunched up that freckled face, said some very, very brave things in his mind, and took a flying leap over the ditch. Just as he was landing, his brand new hiking boot caught the edge and he fell, crashing onto the ground. It wasn’t a little fall, no, not like the hero’s in the story books who jump up with their hands on their hips and trumpets announcing their pride in the little hero. No, the boy slowly pulled his feet under his chest and sat on his knees, wiping the dirt off the side of his face and spitting a nasty old leaf out of his mouth. He felt blood trickling down his leg and down his elbow too, and sat down to see his new boots all dirty and scuffed. He tried not to cry. He swallowed hard and took a deep breath. He didn’t like that his mind told him that maybe he wasn’t a hero, afterall. He stood up slowly and limped forward still hoping for an adventure to make him feel better about his fall.
The little boy kept limping forward. He was not going to just give up, he was pretty sure hero’s didn’t do that, but he was starting to think he might want to. He leaned on his stick and took a deep breath and tried to figure out the meaning of the “flop, flop, flop” sound as he walked. Where was it coming from? He stumbled again and with horror he discovered that when he had fallen, he had torn the bottom of his brand new shoe, just under his toes so that every time he took a step it dragged a little along the ground. The little boy sighed a great deep sigh, as if he had suddenly become a very old man. This was not going so well, after-all. But hero’s were supposed to be brave. He knew that. All of his story books had said so. And so the little brave boy with the dirty blond hair and dust covered freckles looked ahead and flop, flop, flopped along the trail again, dragging his walking stick along behind him. He sure didn’t look like a hero should look anymore. This whole adventuring business was getting so very confusing to a little boy in the woods. The boy thought now he really needed to do something great, or his friends and his daddy might think he was silly and foolish for thinking he could handle a big adventure, especially if he couldn’t even figure out what this adventure was actually supposed to be!
But that was when the thunder came. The sky was getting darker and darker, the wind was getting windier and windier, and the first big rain drops started to make streaks down the boys dirty little face. His shoes flopped, his stick dragged, and the boy started to feel really, really scared. What was he going to do? This just did not look like the pictures in his story book, and he just did not feel like a hero anymore. He slowly turned in a circle and looked around him and he realized he didn’t even know where he was anymore, and he didn’t know how to get back home. He felt so scared, and for the first time he knew what it was like to feel really, really lonely. The thunder got louder and the rain drops were falling faster. He crawled up under the branches of a big tree and curled his knees up to his chest as tightly as he could, and even though he didn’t want to he started to cry a little, and then he cried some more. He wished he had asked his daddy to come on the adventure with him. The boy needed his hero… that’s who he had wanted to be like in the first place. He wanted to show his daddy he could be like him and do hard things.
The little adventurer thought about yelling for help. He yelled one time, and then he tried again. He realized that the rain and the thunder were much louder than his biggest hero voice, and so he just gave up and cried and cried. After a few minutes, he thought about how it was still raining, it was still thundering, he was still sitting under a tree alone, and he was tired of crying. He looked at the path worn down through the woods. He didn’t know where it went or which way he had come from, but he suddenly realized that the only way a path could be there, is from other feet walking up and down, looking for their own adventures before him. And even though he still felt scared, he felt just a little bit brave again, when he thought that maybe the people who discovered new paths must have been scared when it thundered, too. He squeezed his eyes closed just as tightly as he could and he told God that he was sorry for pretending he was bigger than he was. He told God that He knew God was biggest, that he knew He was the hero.. and the boy asked him if God would please help him to be brave enough to get back on this adventuring trail. The boy thought that there wasn’t an easy short cut right now so he still had to be brave even though he didn’t want to anymore. This whole hero adventuring thing wasn’t really all the stories had made it out to be.
He wondered if he should walk through the thunder. He had heard thunder meant that lightening might hit him, but he really didn’t know what to do anymore or what a good plan would be to get out of this mess. He just figured sitting still wasn’t going to help very much. The little boy started to walk and tripped over his shoe again. He knelt again on those bloodied knees, they didn’t hurt so much anymore, and took the broken boots that he thought would make him so tough right off his feet, tied the laces together, threw them over his shoulder and walked through the mud just like that. The mud squished through his toes and he felt rocks poking the bottom of his feet and suddenly he didn’t feel so scared anymore. He started to feel just a little brave again when he realized that the mud couldn’t stop him, or the rain, or the broken shoes or bruised knees. He wiped the tears and rain drops off his face (who knew which was which anymore) and he picked up his walking stick and decided it was really high time to make it into a sword. He shook that sword at the thunder and at the rain, and he used that little stick to help him keep his balance as he trudged forward in the mud. None of the happily ever after stories had warned him that sometimes you might run into things that you just can’t beat with a sword. He shook that sword again at the thunder anyway, just because it made him smile to realize that he didn’t like the mud and he missed his boots, but he was still walking and he still had somewhere to go. He laughed when the thunder boomed at his little sword pointed at the sky because the noise had scared him, but it hadn’t beaten him afterall. Sure the sword was just pretend, it must have looked ridiculous but he didn’t care anymore. That snaggle-toothed grin shone out brighter than before because his face looked so dirty and he wasn’t pretending to be someone else anymore. The little boy felt like an adventurer again. It didn’t look like his story books, and he still felt kind of scared, but it was his own real adventure, it was his own story and it was time to keep trying to figure out how to get to where he was going. He knew he would probably slip and stumble again, but this time he would know he didn’t have to stay still and cry about it. He was just going to keep on walking.
He remembered how he had wished he had asked his daddy to come on the adventure with him and he wished he could figure out which direction was home, but he just didn’t know. He dug his little feet down as deep as he could in the mud, took the biggest, deepest breath he could, and yelled and hollered just like the thunder had hollered at him, “DADDY!!!!” And then he stopped and looked around him. He still didn’t know which way was home. He still didn’t know which way to walk… but suddenly the boy heard a voice he recognized, and he saw another great big pair of boots step through the trees and he didn’t know if his heart could handle how happy he felt to see his daddy’s big smile. He dropped his little broken boots and ran, and his Father’s arms were all ready to catch him when he jumped through the air to be held. His daddy was here. And the little boy felt totally, and completely brave again.
“Daddy! How did you find me right when I called? How did you know where I was?” the boy asked with uncontrollable excitement. His Father smiled at him. “Buddy, I was here the whole time, just walking a little ways off. I wouldn’t leave you alone in these woods. I knew a storm was coming.” The boy suddenly felt just a little embarrassed, and a little ashamed. He had a lot of questions. “Daddy, did you already know I wasn’t big enough?” His dad smiled a smile that made him feel so loved. “Oh I knew you were big enough for the adventure, and I also knew that the storm would be really scary for you. I knew both.” The boy thought for a minute. “Daddy, if you were here all the time, why didn’t you come to get me and fix everything and take me home?” His dad answered, “Because you want to be big, and this is how it happens, and I know you will be. Because you wanted to learn about adventures, and this is what they are. Adventures are hard and scary things sometimes, but they make you grow, they teach you about real things, and they make you stronger than hard things. Adventures make you know how to ask for help and how to dig your feet in the mud and how to cry. They make you learn how to get up and try again, and that’s how you will grow into a man. That’s what adventures are all about. I’m so proud of you, my muddy little man. Adventures teach you the truth about enemies, and they teach you the truth about hero’s, because it’s not like a story, you have to try it to understand. Are you ready to keep trying this adventure, even if it’s hard and you don’t know where you are going?”
The boy thought again for a minute. “Are there more storms coming, Daddy? I don’t like the thunder.”
“Yes.” His daddy replied. “Yes, there are always more storms coming. The world needs the storms, needs the rain, and that is more important that what we want the weather to be.”
“Daddy, I don’t have my boots anymore. They made me strong. They made me feel brave. Do you have more shoes for me?"
His Daddy said “No, buddy. I know you don’t have your shoes anymore and it’s going to hurt you to walk. I’m sorry for that. But the more your feet walk on the rocks, if you can be tough and brave and keep walking when it hurts, your feet will get hard callouses on the bottoms, and you won’t even think you need those boots anymore. We could go home, and we can rest and stay out of the rain and rest those feet of yours that I love, but you won’t grow and you won’t follow this path through the hard parts to see the other side. Or we can find out where this path goes and grow some callouses. I can carry you for a little while, and then we’ll have to let those feet of yours get stronger again. What do you say?”
The boy thought one more minute, and then he asked one more question. “Daddy, where is the path taking us? Where are we going to go?”
The big, strong daddy looked at his son and smiled a great big smile.
“With me.” He said. “You’re going with me. You're going where I am going. And I’m not going to tell you everything yet, but I do love you and we are going to have an adventure together. It isn't where we are going that matters as much as how you will get there, how you will grow, and that we are together. Those are the biggest things, and they will get us there. You don’t have to be afraid, even if there are storms and hard things, I’ll be with you and make sure you get to where we’re going. Nobody wants to see that big, goofy grin of yours more than I do, and you know it. Now, are you ready?” And he held out his big strong hand. The boy looked at his daddy’s big smile, and he looked at that big strong hand, covered in the dirt and blood that he had wiped from the little boys face and from his leg. He looked at that big dirty hand covered in callouses and scars, and he put his little hand right where it fit, right inside of his daddy’s hand and they walked forward together. And the little barefooted boy walked and smiled because he knew that this big hard trail really was going to be the greatest, greatest adventure of all. He smiled because he didn’t have to be the hero in the story, he never did, he was the little boy. And he had a hero holding his hand. He knew that it was going to be really hard and he didn’t really like the thought of hurting anymore, but he knew that his daddy was with him, and he wanted to be like the man with the strong hands, even if that meant he needed to go through painful things. He knew that they could do the hard things together and that’s how he could grow to be big and strong like his hero.
And now he knew the adventure in the story books was not as wonderful as his own, even though it felt happier and easier than this stormy trail. Because his story wasn’t about defeating dragons with make believe swords or hunting an ending to say “happily ever after,” even though it sure sounded nice. It was much, much bigger than an easy story book. His story wouldn’t just be about getting somewhere safely and making people smile, it was about watching his hero win. His story was getting to hold hands with the real hero and explore things he had never seen before, and couldn’t have seen from home or if he had been alone. His story was about losing some of the things that he thought mattered most, to make him a stronger adventurer and to trust right past his fears. His story was about learning to never give up and that he was never alone. His adventure was bigger than winning, it was learning that he didn’t always have to defeat his enemies, he simply didn’t need to be afraid of them or thrown off course by them. His story wasn’t about being a hero, it was about being adored by one and being trusted to walk along an adventurous path even though he was only a very little boy. And his story was about being chosen to walk hand in hand with the one who knew much, much more about the story than the boy did. And knowing this now, this gave the little boy a happy that no “ever after” could ever, ever take away.