Emily Colson: I began to see God shine through my son’s life, not despite the Autism, but because of the Autism.
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John Fuller: On the last Focus on the Family broadcast, Emily Colson shared how God showed up in her struggles as a single mom to a son who has Autism. And you’ll hear the rest of her story today with Focus on the Family president Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.
Jim Daly: John, what I love about Emily’s message is that it’s not just about perseverance or about God showing up in the hard times, but it’s about what our Creator intends for people with special needs; people made in His image. And if you missed Part One of Emily’s presentation last time, get in touch with us! We can send you the entire message on CD or an audio download so that you can listen again or maybe share it with that friend that’s living in those kinds of circumstances.
John: Yeah, I can see a Sunday school class playing this and then discussing it. We’re going to bundle the CD with Emily’s award-winning book Dancing with Max for a donation of any amount. You’ll find details at focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us, 1-800-232-6459. Now in this recording, Emily was speaking at a Mother’s Day service at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado and she’d been reflecting on Jesus’ words in John chapter 10, verse 10, saying “I’ve come that they may have life and have it to the full.” And we’ll start with a short recap on Focus on the Family featuring Emily Colson.
Emily: So, about a year ago, I brought Max to the movies. He loves to go to the movies. Now, we get in there, sit down, and the previews were too loud. Have you ever had that happen? I don’t know why they do that. I put my hands over my ears. My ears hurt. Well, with Autism, so often the sensory system is very vulnerable, and sights and sounds and smells can just overwhelm an individual with Autism, which is exactly what happened to Max. It was too loud. He put his hands over his ears, and he cried, “I wanna go home.”
Our feature film started, and he cried out again. It just startled him. Put his hands over his ears. “I wanna go home.” Twenty seconds into our feature film, the couple beside my step-mom, who was with us, leaned forward. The woman leaned forward, and she said, “Are you gonna make him be quiet?” My step-mom kinda took a breath, and she said, “He has Autism,” and she was about to ask for a moment’s grace, when the woman said, “I know he has Autism. But why should the rest of us have to suffer?” I thought, you know, “I don’t wanna be here.” I looked around the theater a little bit thinking, “do we need to get away from these people?” But when I got Max up, it was then that I heard the applause around us, for our leaving. We began to walk down the stairs. People yelled things out. One man yelled, “And don’t come back.”
What do we do, when life doesn’t go as planned? How do we run with perseverance? Mother’s Day is kind of extra special for me, because it was Mother’s Day 25 years ago today, that I found out I was expecting Max. Well, very quickly after Max was born, we realized that things were going pretty differently than we had planned. He wasn’t hitting any of those milestones. By the time Max was 18 months old, he finally took his first steps. Oh, this was a huge victory! He was gonna walk! And three days later, because of the stress and strain on my marriage, my husband walked. I went through a painful divorce. Trust me when I tell you this, there is no other kind. And on the heels of divorce, Max was diagnosed with Autism.
That wasn’t the toughest time. The toughest time came when Max was nine. The Autism was so severe, that we could not really even leave our home. We stopped going to church. We couldn’t go to the grocery store. Max couldn’t make it through a day at school. I would come downstairs at the end of the night, putting Max into bed, hoping he would sleep for an hour, maybe two hours. That was it, for the night. Autism can do that. I would put him into bed, and sit in that rocking chair, and I was too tired to go to bed. So I just stared at the wall, this one yellow wall in my living room.
And then I began to think about a scripture. John 10:10. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Abundant life. We didn’t have abundant life. We had the opposite of abundant life. So I made a decision that night, sitting in that rocking chair. And the next morning, I got Max up, got him dressed. I thought, “We are gonna trust God, and we are gonna find out.” So we went out. And it was disastrous.
But I began to see something amazing happen. People began to step out of their comfort zones, and into our bumpy, messy lives. I began to see God shine through my son’s life, not despite the Autism, but because of the Autism.
And I watched as my dad, who was such a strong influence in my own journey of faith. I watched him baptize my son. Of all the things the world says my son cannot do, he can give his life to Christ. See, God’s goal for Max is not that he become like other young men. God’s goal for Max, is that he become more like Christ. Don’t you think that’s amazing? God has the same goal, for this young man with Autism, who struggles so greatly, that He has for you and me.
I brought you this little cup. I know you can’t see it all that well. It’s silver. It’s kinda small. It’s dented. If you could see it closely, it is very tarnished. On the inside, it’s all scraped up. I don’t know if that happened from use, or if it happened when it was made. If you were to see this in an antique shop, I’m pretty sure you would pass it by. It doesn’t look very interesting. If they would’ve put a price on it, I’m sure it wouldn’t be worth very much, monetarily. But this cup is precious, because on the bottom of this cup, there is a tiny little mark. That’s the mark of my great-grandfather, my dad’s grandfather, who was a silversmith.
This cup is precious, because it bears the mark of its creator. That’s true for us too. Our value is not determined by what we can or cannot do. Our value isn’t determined by whether we’re dented up, or scraped from use, or tarnished. We are valued, and loved, and precious, because we belong to Him. We bear the mark of our Creator. When Max was baptized, it was so precious. I was there on the side. My step-mom’s on the side, my dad. We were overwhelmed with joy. But we had no idea how important this was to Max. We couldn’t have imagined back then, that for 11 years now, every time Max gets in the water, whether it’s a pool, a hot tub, the ocean, he re-enacts his baptism.
He puts his hand on his cheek, just where my dad had his. He puts his hand up like my dad had his, and he says, “Because you love Jesus, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And then he pushes himself down, and he comes up and he yells, “I got baptized!” (laughs).
You wanna start a revival, take Max to a water park. (laughs) Oh, it’s fun. We’re going next week actually. I’m gonna have some stories I’ll have to relay back to you (laughs).
When I watch Max do that now, after losing my dad, I watch Max put his hand up to his cheek, exactly where my dad had his, and I can see the handprint, the fingerprints of my dad’s life in my son. A legacy of love, and hope, and faith, passed from one to another. Oh, that we should leave that kind of legacy with our lives.
When I lost my dad, I knew that God was asking me to persevere through another seemingly impossible situation. I’ve had a lot of impossible situations, but I don’t have to tell you that, because I know you have your own. I know you have your situations in front of you, where you think, “I cannot imagine how this is gonna work. There are no open doors. There are only walls around us. I can’t imagine.” And yet we are called to run, with perseverance, the race marked out for us. So how do we run, when life gets so tough?
I started running last summer. I’m very bad at it, but I’m running. So, I sort of walk, and then run, and walk, run, walk, run. I call it wunning. I’m going wunning. I just run to run, or in my case, I wun to wun. But I was watching the Boston Marathon three weeks ago. Ugh. You watch the Boston Marathon, there are so many stories of perseverance. Stories of pure grit, of people refusing to back down. But there is one story that only caught the camera’s eye for a short time. There were no news reports the next day. I searched. Nothing written up about it. I watched, as a man who was very frail, he had run the 26 miles, and as he approached the finish line, two blocks from the finish line, his legs gave out.
Another runner, a stronger runner, stopped his race. Now, some of you know, your finish time in the Boston Marathon is everything. Seconds matter in your finish time. That stronger runner stopped his race, and went over beside that weaker runner. Now that strong runner, clearly, from what I could see, was strong enough, that he could have lifted him right out of that race, and brought him over to the sideline. He could’ve said, “This is too tough for you. I’m taking you out.” He could have lifted him up, and carried him across that finish line. But that’s not what happened. I watched as that strong runner put his arms around that weak man. He pulled him in close, so the weak runner could lean against the strength the stronger runner had, and he lifted him up. The strong runner lifted that weak man up, just enough that the weak man could keep walking. I watched as that weak runner walked across the finish line, by his own two feet, but not by his own strength. That’s the strength of God I know. That’s the strength He promises to us, when we run with perseverance.
John: Emily Colson on Focus on the Family and in a few moments you’ll hear how the members of her church came together so that Max could enjoy the simple pleasure of watching a movie. I highly recommend getting a copy of Emily’s book, Dancing with Max. We’re going to pair that with a CD of this complete message when you make a generous financial contribution of any amount to the ministry. Do so when you call 800-A-FAMILY or online at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Let’s continue now with Emily Colson on Focus on the Family.
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Emily: Isaiah 40 tells us “He gives strength to the weary, and increases the power of the weak.” Psalm 46 tells us “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.” Hebrews 13:5, God is promising, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” We are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus. A thousand other voices will try to convince us otherwise. Our legs may ache. Our feet may be blistered. Our lungs may gasp for breath, but we hold on to the strength of Jesus Christ. We hold on to the truth of Jesus Christ, as He holds onto us, because truth doesn’t change, even when the journey gets tough. The apostle Paul, who endured such great hardship in his years of ministry, told us in Philippians 4, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” So as the author of Hebrews encourages us, let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. But we don’t just run to run. We run to Him. We run to God.
God taught me something in that dark theater, where there was such cruelty. I wouldn’t have believed it possible, had I not lived it myself. To have my son in an environment, where he is so hated for his disability, but God taught me something. See, as a mom, I couldn’t wait to get my vulnerable child out of that ugliness. But God, God, out of love for us, God chose to send His Son, as a tiny, vulnerable baby, right into this carnage, right into this theater of humanity, with all its ugliness, to bring us hope, to bring us Himself, to bring us the promise of eternal life, to bring us the promise of an abundant life. Oh, I can run to someone who loves me that much.
Well, our story didn’t end in that dark theater. It really kind of only began. Our church stepped in to run with us. A woman rented a theater. A young mom, she came up to me and she said, “Emily, as a mom, I just feel like I would want to make this right for my child. Do you think Max would like it if we rented a theater?” I, really, I thought she was just an idea person. I didn’t think she was really gonna do it, but she did it. And then the pastor of our church heard about it. The next Sunday, he got up in front of the congregation at every service, and he said, “I don’t care if you like this movie or not. If you love Max, you’re coming to ‘The Muppets.’”
All of a sudden, the church was running with us. And then the community began to hear about it, because the news media picked it up. The news programs, the evening news in Boston is picking it up. The newspapers are picking it up, talking about how a church responds to the brokenness, and the ugliness in the world, right? We know, as Christians, that brokenness exists in every heart, every one of us. It’s why Jesus came. He came for our brokenness. The brokenness in the hearts of those people in that theater, is the same brokenness that’s in mine. So all of a sudden, the whole community is hearing about it. People gave whatever they had. It was extraordinary. People couldn’t wait to be a part of this story of redemption. It was awesome. Somebody gave, donated a 37 foot limousine, so that Max, and six of his buddies, and seven staff members could ride to that movie in style. We had over 500 people come to watch a movie with Max. But we didn’t just watch the movie. The first song came on. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen ‘The Muppet’s Most Wanted.’ Highly recommend. It’s great.
The first song came on, and Max looked over at me, and he said, “Mom. What about the other movie?” And I said, “Max. That other movie is all done.” With that, he shot up out of his seat. He started dancing. All of a sudden, I look around. The whole place was ready to spring. They all shot up. By the end of that film, people are in the aisles dancing. They are hugging each other. They are crying. It was extraordinary. See, people came into that first movie, at Christmas, expecting a perfect experience, feeling entitled to a perfect experience. “Here’s my little bubble, and I own this little bubble, and nobody gets to pop it.” Oh, what a miserable way to go through life. Everybody came to a movie with Max, ready to give somebody else a perfectly glorious experience. Oh, what a celebration of love. What a beautiful picture of our church. What a celebration of life, a story of redemption.
I want to encourage you, as a church, to do what only you can do. Be the body of Christ, in a broken, hurting world, and all will be blessed. I wanna share with you one little paragraph, from the book that my dad and I were so privileged to write together. What a great gift God gave us, to write about this experience of Max. This will give you a picture of Max in our church. See, we were out of church for five years, because I couldn’t figure out how we could be in church, when you can’t sit in nice, quiet, even rows. Couldn’t find our place. But Max is back. God opened wonderful doors, and after five years of heartbreak, that we were not there. Max is now back. We are there. Oh, we are there. Max is a greeter every Sunday morning. You cannot come into church without experiencing this, this amazing joy that will meet you and greet you at the door. I watch people as their armor just drops off when they meet Max. It’s beautiful. He sits at the welcome center, and serves there. He serves on the clean up crew, every time there’s a special event. He comes, and he serves. See, he’s not there saying, “Okay, who’s gonna take care of me?” He’s coming in as a believer, saying, “I am part of the body of Christ. I am here to bring my gifts.”
God bless you. Thank you so much for having me.
John: Well, today on Focus on the Family we’ve been listening to Emily Colson and what an amazing journey she’s been on since the birth of her son Max. He’s now in his mid-twenties.
Jim: Emily has gone from not being able to attend church because of Max’s behavioral issues to seeing Max grow up to be a greeter at that very church every Sunday! And isn’t that a wonderful example of how God does work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose? It doesn’t promise you an easy life, it’s just saying-- your circumstances, God will use and it’s helpful and healthy to see it in that perspective.
John: Yeah and sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s using all these things, as Emily said, they weren’t able to attend church for five years-- that’s a long time waiting for something to happen.
Jim: It is, John. Let me remind our listeners-- if you’re in a time of waiting on the Lord, please feel free to call us-- let us pray with you! We’d love to come alongside you and be the hands and feet of Jesus in your life. The biggest point is to say that you’re not alone; you’re part of our family. So reach out to us.
John: Our number is 800-A-FAMILY. 800-232-6459.
Jim: And if you’d like a copy of Emily’s book, Dancing with Max, request if from us here at Focus on the Family. We’d be happy to send it to you for a donation of any amount and we’ll pair it with a CD of Emily’s complete message. And please be generous as you can-- when you get the book from our online bookstore, those proceeds go right back into ministry: saving babies lives, saving marriages, placing this resource into someone’s hands who can’t afford it. So let me say thank you in advance for supporting the ministry.
John: And again, you can donate when you call 800-A-FAMILY or make a contribution and request the book and CD bundle at focusonthefamily.com/radio. Next time join us as Elisa Morgan encourages women to reconsider their beauty.
Elisa Morgan: Ninety-six percent of women worldwide, including followers of Jesus, would never use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe themselves.
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