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!**