Dancing with Max: A mother who broke free

“It’s time to throw out my ideas of what I thought life would be, should be, and let joy fill up those brand-new vacancies.”
~Emily Colson


Many months ago I read Dancing with Max– a beautiful book about a mother learning to joy-dance through life with her autistic son. As I read, I felt like a friend was telling me the story.

Several weeks after reading the book I had the sense that I was supposed to remember something that I was not remembering. I forced myself to concentrate… and a class I had taken several years ago came to mind. It was a course on helping families cope with autism and we met weekly for a period of months. There was a soft-spoken, lovely woman in our class with a son with ASD in his late teens, and she shared her wisdom with us. I was drawn to her, to her stories, but after the class ended we did not keep in touch.

Emily, I thought. Her name was Emily, and I felt such a connection to her. She couldn’t be the same Emily who wrote Dancing with Max? The same Emily Colson, daughter of famous author and ministry leader, Chuck Colson? But instantly I knew she was.

I dug up an old email that had the names of all the members of our class. I wrote her that night – and it was a particularly painful night for me – but I wrote her pouring out a bit of my heart. I was not even sure the email address was still good or if she’d even remember me. She wrote me back right away. We got together for lunch a few weeks later and just like old friends do, we talked for hours.

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of traveling with Emily to the Iron Sharpens Iron Conference in Hartford. Working at her book table gave me the opportunity to meet and even pray with women all touched by special needs in some way – a grandmother, a sister, a friend that just wanted to know how to encourage her neighbor who’s son was newly diagnosed. I learned so much watching Emily. She is all grace and has a beautiful message of hope.

She led a seminar called “A Mother and Son Who Broke Free: Living Life’s Challenges With A Special Needs Child.” Most of the women in the room were parents or caregivers, hungry for encouragement, eager to share, relieved to be in a safe space with others who got it. She was only about ten minutes into her presentation when she stopped speaking, walked over to a mother weeping quietly in the front row, and hugged her.

That one tender moment seemed to open the floodgates and a young woman sitting next to me began to cry. Not really knowing what else to do I rubbed her back and whispered, “It’s ok. We know. We all know.”

The end of the seminar ended with a sweet time of sharing and I felt honored to be in that group of women. A mother told us about her princess, her 19-year-old daughter with Rett syndrome – she cannot walk or talk and she is a gift. A grandmother lost her daughter unexpectedly a few years ago and now cares for her autistic 8-year-old grandson who is growing bigger and stronger and every day is a struggle. A mother with a 4-year-old son with Down Syndrome wondering if he’ll ever get out of diapers. A son, 28 years old, was recently diagnosed with Asperger’s and how his mother worries and some nights cries herself to sleep.

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Is. 41:10
~One of the verses from the seminar

Even though we knew we’d be walking out of that church basement and back into our realities filled with challenges and uncertainties, I believe we all held firm and felt the joy of that verse. “I will strengthen you, I will help you.”



**As a rule, I do not review or promote books and products on this blog. But this book just needs to be shared. So! I am offering a giveaway of Dancing with Max. This copy is extra special because it’s been signed by Emily, her father Chuck Colson who wrote the prologue and epilogue, and by (drumroll) Max himself! Just leave a comment any time this week. If Rhema draws your name (on Saturday, the 8th) I’ll send you the book!**

36 thoughts on “Dancing with Max: A mother who broke free

  1. Sounds like a divine appointment being part of that group, reading that book, going to that conference. All part of a perfect plan of encouragement. I love how much He cares about the details…

  2. Wow. No accidents. Love this J.

    “hungry for encouragement, eager to share, relieved to be in a safe space with others who got it.”



  3. I have not read this book, but I have heard of it. I feel that I don’t have any words to write becuase this post is just so powerful. Yes….” Fear not for I am with you” You and Emily both- spreading the word that we are not alone.

  4. Tears rolling into my coffee cup this morning…loved your post and Emily’s honest, empathetic video. What an opportunity when we live in uncertainty and feel ‘hungry for encouragement’ indeed.

  5. I read and loved this book too. You are right when you say that it feels like a friend telling you the story. Great encouragement from the book and from you!

  6. We’ve been in a really rough patch lately. Last night I searched for a passage that would help me to be strong and I found this one … “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.” —Isaiah 43:2. Your verse above is very much what I needed to read today. I now feel like I need to go and read the entire book of Isaiah. I hope you have a great day today!!!

  7. Love your blog. I have an 8 year old ASD boy and we struggle with behavior daily.. I admire that you stayed strong in Christ. I, unfortunately, have not done that and am tentatively looking for a way back. I am still wondering how God let’s innocent children suffer… Would love the book and it’s encouragement. Will buy it either way!! 🙂

  8. Oh my goodness! So many things to say. First, “Dancing with Max” is an incredible book…I wrote to Emily as well after reading it and she too responded. I was so happy to make a connection. What a beautiful moment in that room! Also, I cannot believe you were in Hartford…less than 10 minutes down the road from me! I would have been there if I had known about it…to meet you and Emily, and participate in that wonderful session. I am so glad you were able to be a part!

  9. Oh Jeneil-you are an amazing woman blessed in so many ways. Thank you for sharing this wonderful story from your heart. I am blessed through your words. Always thinking of you and your family. Love you my friend!

  10. I so needed to read this. That verse was just what I needed to hear. But I wish I would have read it later! I now have to walk into the other room where my son and his ABA therapist are and after I’ve been crying! Lol, oh well. Thanks for uplifting my spirit. I needed that today.

  11. Pick me, Rhema, pick me! 🙂 I listened to an interview with Emily about autism one time that Focus on the Family did. She sounds like an amazing person- that’s so neat that you know her personally! I would love to read her book.

    Also, I really like the quote you started this post with. Thinking I might need to write that down and hang it on the refrigerator this week- it’s shaping up to be a tough one.

  12. Oh, me, Rhema, pick me, and after I read it I will give it away to my friend who needs to read it, and she will give it to someone else, and we will pass along the hope to everyone we can find.

  13. You are a witness of God’s love. Thank you, as always, for sharing your journey. Thank you for encouraging those women in that room, and for encouraging me through your words.

  14. What a wonderful inspiring post! I teach severe and profound special education for my entire school district (second largest in the state). My students are total blessing to me… They’ve thought me more about life than anyone will ever know. I look forward to lolooking through your blog some more.

  15. Sorry I missed the giveaway but glad I stumbled upon this post. As a mom to a 2 & 4 year old with ASD, I have to remember that God does not make mistakes as picked me as their mom to help them be all they can be. They are not broken but His perfect creations. Even on our most challenging days I have to see how much they bless me by their uniqueness.

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  18. This post is filled with so much love. The support between the parents at your meeting. The friend you’ve found in Emily, it’s all so beautiful. And

    “a friend that just wanted to know how to encourage her neighbor who’s son was newly diagnosed.”

    That really moved me as well.

    I look forward to winning the book. LOL.

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