Focus on the Family Broadcast

Seeing God Through My Son’s Autism (Part 2 of 2)

Seeing God Through My Son’s Autism (Part 2 of 2)

Emily Colson explains how her view of God has changed through years of struggling to raise an autistic son as a single parent. She describes painful situations she’s encountered in public, where people have been rude or hostile to Max because he is not acting normally. She says “God doesn't want Max to be 'normal', He wants him to be more like Jesus.” (Part 2 of 2)


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: 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. Thanks for joining us, I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, what I love about Emily’s message is that it’s not just about, uh, 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, uh, 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 Fuller: Yeah, I can see a Sunday school class playing this and then maybe discussing it, and, uh, certainly we’d recommend you get a copy as well of Emily’s award-winning book, Dancing with Max. Uh, you’ll find details at, or call 800-A-FAMILY. 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 10:10, where he said, “I’ve come that they may have life and have it to the full.” And we’ll start with a short recap by Emily Colson on today’s Focus on the Family.

Emily: So about a year ago a 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.” 20 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?” I thought, you know, “I don’t wanna be here.” I looked around the theater a little bit thinking, “Do we just 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 got to the front of the theater and a man all the way in the back yelled the cruelest things possible about my son’s disability. And as if that were not enough, just as we’re stepping out the door, he yelled sarcastically, “Merry Christmas.” 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. 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 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. (laughs).

Audience: (Laughing)

Emily: 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 were to 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, right? (laughs). 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 reenacts his baptism.

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: 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.”

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: You wanna start a revival, take Max to a waterpark.

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: 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 (laughs) 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.”

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: I just run to run. Or in my case I, I wun to wun.

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: 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: You are listening to Focus on the Family, and that’s Emily Colson. Uh, stay tuned because in just a few minutes you’ll hear how the members of her church have rallied together to bless her son Max. You can get Emily’s delightful, wonderful book called Dancing with Max, uh, from us, for a gift of any amount. And, uh, when you request that, we’ll include a free audio download of her entire presentation. So donate today, generously as you can, and request those at, or call for details. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459. Let’s go ahead and return now to more from Emily Colson.

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 on to 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 wanna 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 lo-, or not, if you love Max, you’re coming to the Muppets.”

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: 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, 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. (laughs).

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: 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 Muppets Most Wanted, highly recommend, it’s great.

Audience: (Laughter)

Emily: (laughs). 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 (laughs) 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 wanna 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 in the cleanup 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, uh, what an amazing journey she’s been on since the birth of her son Max. He’s now in his mid-20s.

Jim: E-, Emily has gone from not being able to attend to church because of Max’s behavior issues, to seeing Max grow up to be, uh, 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, uh, 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-

Jim: Ah.

John: … things. So, um, as Emily said, they weren’t able to attend church for five years. That’s a long time waiting for something to happen.

Jim: That is, John. Let me remind our listeners, if you’re in a time of waiting on the Lord, uh, 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. Um, the biggest point is to say, you’re not alone. You’re part of our family, so reach out to us.

John: Yeah, our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. 800-232-6459.

Jim: And if you’d like a copy of Emily’s book, Dancing with Max, uh, request it from us here at Focus on the Family. We’d be happy to send it to you for a donation of any amount. And please be generous as you can. Uh, 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 you can reach us when you call 800-A-FAMILY, 800-232-6459, or donate online and request the wonderful book, Dancing with Max. We’re at And remember, when you get that book from us, we’ll include a free audio download of Emily’s entire two-day presentation. And as we said last time, we have a number of really helpful articles about caring for a child with special needs. Uh, it can be a lonely road, so, uh, somebody in your sphere, or maybe you, need some encouragement, look for the links at our website. Next time, personal finance writer Matt Bell explains how to teach kids to manage money in God-honoring ways.


Matt Bell: But along the way, those heart issues are crucial, because money is not just a spreadsheet sort of thing, it’s not a calculator sort of thing, it’s a heart sort of thing. You know, “Where o-, where our money is, there our heart will be also,” is what the Bible says.

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