1,000 Voices

God is building you a team, even if you feel alone.

Our families affected by disability are often home on Sunday mornings, isolated from the church. It is easy to believe we are alone. But God is building a team. And I have seen it.

It was 5am, 14 degrees, and still dark. If I wanted to get to the airport in time for my flight, I had no choice but to shovel this path…again. It’s always nice to visit California, but when one’s hometown of Boston has had more snow than at any other time in the history of the universe, and one’s house looks like an oversized meringue, it’s especially nice to visit California. 75 degrees, with a chance of earthquakes, sounds like a perfect forecast.

I took a few more shovels full of snow and stopped to stretch. My back was sore from shoveling this same narrow path almost every day for the past six weeks. And every time I shovel, it fills right back up with snow. As a single parent of a child with autism, I will admit – it’s tough to do the hard work of every day, and it’s easy to feel like I’m doing it alone. I wanted to walk back into my house and wait for global warming. But 1,000 people from 50 different countries were coming to this disability conference in California hosted by Joni and Friends. Many were traveling difficult paths.

So I kept shoveling.

By the time I arrived at the Global Access conference in Los Angeles, I had completely forgotten about anything cold. I walked through the doors of the conference just in time for afternoon worship. The stage was brightly lit and the music team was singing, “You are the everlasting God.” Gauzy white drapes hung from the sky-high ceiling of the sanctuary and captured the light mid-air. I breathed in the music, the voices, the magnificence of it all.

All around me there were people, of every color and culture and age, of every ability and disability. And every one of us held the same hope: to see the doors of the church open wider to those with disabilities. I stood in the back of the sanctuary so that I could witness everything, and everyone. The dancing hadn’t started yet, the conga line lead by Joni, the joy-filled worship that would later consume the back of the sanctuary. For now, we stood side by side, leaning on the Lord and each other, lifting our hearts and voices.

The woman beside me was tall and strong, with a shock of blonde hair that flew behind her like wild flames. In the middle of the song she reached for my hand and raised it into the air. She lifted it higher than I could have done on my own. I laughed a bit, as I had to stand on tiptoes. I then turned to the woman on the other side of me. She was beautiful and frail, her limbs no longer cooperating. I reached for her hand and gently lifted her arm, waiting for her approval. Her smile filled the whole sanctuary as we sang together to the Lord,

“You’re the defender of the weak.

You comfort those in need.

You lift us up on wings like eagles.”

Tears began to stream down my cheeks. Worship is different when it comes from a place of brokenness, when there are 1000 people in a room who know a “fix” may not come in this world, but whose hope is in Jesus Christ. Worship is different when we lift our souls to God, while we reach for those beside us to help carry their burdens.

Our families affected by disability are often home on Sunday mornings, isolated from the church. It is easy to believe we are alone. But God is building a team. And I have seen it.

I looked around the church, all of us with arms raised, worshiping in every language yet with one voice. And I couldn’t help but think back to the many years when my son and I were home on Sunday mornings. Like so many families, we had not yet found our way into the church. The thought of it stabbed me in the heart. But on this day, at this conference, there is hope. God is drawing us together from around the globe so that no one will be forgotten. He wants his church to be full.

Our 1,000 voices became so loud that I thought the roof was going to lift right off, the way a convertible opens up to let in the warmth of the California sunshine.

“Our God, you reign forever.

Our hope, our strong deliverer.”

I squeezed the hands of the two women beside me, and we helped each other lift our hands just a little bit higher.

By Emily Colson

Wrestling with Eeyore

Close up

“What do you think 2015 will be like?” Max’s tutor asked as we sat around the dinner table helping my son with conversation skills. I took a bite of dinner and sighed, “I hope it will be better than this year.” The room grew quiet. Did I say that aloud, I wondered? Was that my voice? I am the certified and licensed cheerleader of the house, the girl who was nicknamed “Smiley Emiley” in grade school. I looked at the faces around me and nearly choked on my gluten-free grain-free pizza, which is not so hard to do. There was no way to take it back; the words hung in the air like the little black rain cloud that sometimes hovers only over Eeyore, the pessimistic pal of Winnie the Pooh.

We have had an extraordinary year filled with an abundance of blessings. Doors have not just been opened; they have been blown off the hinges. Yet there has been this cloud following me, a real and looming struggle that has cast its shadow on the way I’ve seen all of life. And I hadn’t realized it until those words slipped from my lips.

Pay attention, my heart whispered. Pay attention to the blessings.

A few days later on New Year’s Eve, I ripped a bulletin board off an old display and lay it flat across the table. “Max, lets do a project,” I said, thinking it was more for my benefit than his. We spent the next hour looking back over our shoulders and writing down the blessings of the past year. “Riding a zip line,” Max yelled as he held his pen to paper. “Working at the Car Wash!” “And our church, Max,” I added. “Let’s put that on there.” And then I pulled out a stack of cards I had filled in with some of God’s promises for our new year ahead. Max read each one aloud as he placed them ceremoniously on the board.

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

“And we know that in all things God works together for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

“Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord” Psalm 121:1-2

“I am the vine, you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”John 15:5

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

full bulletin board

We finished listing blessings and promises just in time to dash over to the TV and see the big moment in Time Square. Standing side by side we watched the ball drop, the brilliant reflection filling Max’s wide eyes. I smiled realizing this was a first in his 24 years. The moment and the music swept us both in and we danced around the living room shaking the house until I had wrestled Eeyore and every dark cloud of discouragement to the ground. In the midst of autism, and the challenges of life, I refuse to miss the blessings. God’s goodness is abundantly clear.

It was 1:30 in the morning before Max’s light was out. That’s hardly a first, except that this time it was actually on purpose. As I turned to walk down the stairs, I heard him begin to talk -but it wasn’t his usual video scripting. Instead, he was breathing his own words of resolution into the air.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Emily Colson

What We Hope For

close up cropped

I knew my son valued his job, but I hadn’t considered if his employer valued him.

“Behind you!” I heard Max call as he walked through the bustling commercial kitchen. As a mom, I’m doing an excellent job of “letting go,” just as long as my son wears a hazmat suit, or in this case, perhaps a full-body oven mitt. Fortunately for Max, I’m not his regular job coach in this busy Cape Cod seafood restaurant. But when his coach calls in sick, there is no way I’m going to let Max miss his day of work.

Max passed through the hot kitchen, punched his time card, and made his way into the dining room. “Come on in, Max!” the manager smiled. “Hi Cory!” Max answered as he grabbed the window cleaner. I scurried to keep up as Max washed all the windows and tables in the restaurant, filled the sugar caddies, and restocked the condiments. “How about getting the ice, Max?” Cory suggested. Max bounced up on his toes and followed directions as if autism never clouded his mind, never caused him to lose focus or hesitate.

Finally Cory unlocked the front doors, “Ready Max?” he said as the line of waiting customers flooded in. Max held the door open and greeted people with his mile-wide smile. The dining room is Max’s turf; Cooke’s didn’t make him a back room guy.

I almost blew this job for Max. It was mid summer and Max was scheduled to work on the 4th of July. He only works one morning a week, but with the holiday traffic on the Cape, I knew the commute would be unbearable. So a few days prior I sent Cory an email to cancel. Cory responded almost immediately. As I read his words I felt a tinge of embarrassment. And then I sat back in awe.

“Hi Emily, Max is doing a great job and we love having him! I want you and Max to know that we truly rely on him. That being said, it’s difficult for me to adjust the schedule with such short notice – especially on a holiday weekend. In the future, I’ll need a little more notice for a day off. I don’t mean to sound harsh, but he really is a part of our team and I’m telling you what I would tell anyone else that works at Cooke’s.”

 I knew how much this job meant to Max; I just hadn’t considered how much Max meant to Cooke’s.

“Here’s one for you, Max,” I heard Cory say. I turned to see a tray towering with golden fried clams and a stack of onion rings. “Can you make a food delivery?” I looked at the tray and went a little weak in the knees, imagining how easily those clams could become airborn. But Max just stood tall with his shoulders back as if he’d been waiting his whole life for this moment. As I followed Max into the dining room I couldn’t help but notice how capable my son has become, how valued he is in this restaurant. His steps looked so free that I stopped following.

I let him go.In dining room

I watched from a distance as Max set the tray down with only a minor bump. The customer looked at his plate as the rich fragrance filled the air. Max knew the next part; he’d been practicing at home with his job coach. Cooke’s has made Max the official Customer Satisfaction Representative; we need more employers in the world like Cooke’s. “Welcome-to-Cooke’s-How’s-everything-Enjoy-your-food,” he said as if it were a single word. My heart burst.

The customer looked up and smiled, but didn’t have a chance to answer. Max was already bouncing back toward the kitchen, ready and willing to take his next assignment. I could feel tears well up in my eyes because I knew the unspoken answer. We all knew.

“Everything is great, Max.”


By Emily Colson

The Gathering

His Church, Our Weakness, Pure Joy. 

Krista Dancing, croppedThe band hit the first note and people flooded forward, dancing before they had even left their seats. An oversized tricycle sat on the perimeter just in case it was needed, and jumper cables lay beside the alter. I could feel my heart race; I’d been waiting two years to experience this. Actually, I’d been waiting twenty years – every since the first moment my son Max was diagnosed with autism.

My dear friend Krista had a God-sized vision when she planted this church and built Benjamin’s Hope, a community named after her son and designed for those with and without disabilities. It is in Holland, Michigan, where people are born kinder than most, with hearts as big as the farmland stretching around them. The church, in the very center of Benjamin’s Hope, hosts a fully inclusive worship service every Sunday night called The Gathering. Dancing is encouraged. Jumping is expected. Sitting is optional.

Pastor Eric, cropped

When the music finished Pastor Eric stepped to the front and welcomed us. He is tall and tree-like, stretching above the congregation to offer us safe shelter. I looked at the faces around me; over 100 people had gathered, many with needs on the outside, all of us with needs on the inside. We sat beneath a huge white tent that rose above us like peaks of meringue. Pastor Eric began to tell us about God’s power to help us when we cry out to him, when we ask him for help. My heart hurt a little with the magnitude of needs around me. He then held up long gangly jumper cables to simulate how this transfer of power takes place. But before he could finish his point, a commotion broke out beside me. Two young women with disabilities were visibly upset, perhaps at each other.

“Is everything ok,” Pastor Eric asked gently as he turned toward our front row. “Should we stop and pray?”

As if waiting for the invitation, several young men who live at Benjamin’s Hope jumped forward to pray, eyes closed, hearts open. I ached at the simple beauty of stopping life, of asking to God to come to our rescue at this very minute, before we can go forward. “God, please help us love each other,” one young man with autism began to pray. “Please give us peace.” It took my breath away. This is who we should be in our churches, I thought to myself: totally transparent; willing to drop everything to be with one another in our needs; able to be present with someone without demanding that they change for our convenience. How many of our families affected by disability sit at home on Sunday mornings because they can’t find their way into a seemingly perfect church? How many people without disabilities stay home for exactly the same reason? Tears filled my eyes as if my heart had been pried opened. God wants us to come to him as we are, open, vulnerable, even in our most untidy state. Another young man stepped forward to take the microphone. “And God,” he added thoughtfully, assertively, “Please help these two girls to stop horsing around.”

Pastor Eric finished his sermon and the band began to play again. I jumped to my feet to dance with anyone and everyone. It was as if the whole congregation was effervescent. We swayed and hugged and cried. I glanced over my shoulder to look for Krista; I wanted to flash her a smile to tell her, ‘this changed my life.’ But she wasn’t looking towards me. Instead she was standing in front of her son Ben, who is twice her size now, just gazing into his eyes. I watched as Krista slowly reached up and tenderly cupped her hands around Ben’s face.

As The Gathering came to a close we began to sing the benediction,

“My friends,

may you grow in grace,

and in the knowledge of Jesus Christ.”

I smiled as Krista reached for my hand, and then I noticed everyone else in the church holding hands too. We looked like a string of paper dolls. As we sang, the entire church lifted their locked hands up toward the sky. Everyone at The Gathering became connected, unified, as if the entire church had become part of a long twisting jumper cable. I could hear every kind of voice around me, some on key, some shouting out, and my own voice cracking with emotion. I didn’t want this moment to end. With my hands held high, I tipped my head back like a baby bird and drank it in.

“To God be the glory,” we sang,

“now and forever,

now and forever.”

Benjamin’s Hope: A Place Where We All Belong from Benjamins Hope on Vimeo.

By Emily Colson

For more information on The Gathering, go to www.Benjaminshope.net

The Evidence of God: Exhibit A

The evidence is indisputable, even when it’s all wet.

KayakingFor the past 5 summers Max has been taking kayaking lessons, which I affectionately refer to as my exercise in letting go. Each year I stand on the shore and watch as, one by one, Max and four other young adults are helped into pencil thin boats that sit on top of the water. All of them require assistance. A few need to be carefully lifted and dropped down into the mouth of the boat in a trust fall of limp limbs. Bright orange pontoons grace the sides of several boats to help maintain balance when bodies do not. Our children are more vulnerable on the surface of the water, yet in their faith and frailty, there is strength. To witness this, one can believe anything is possible.

Standing with the other parents, we gasped a little as our children paddled in rhythmic circles and floated out into the open bay. While I may clutch my heart, I can sense Max’s freedom as he glides across the deep. Something happens to him on the water’s surface – he is agile, focused, his language rushing forth like a wave. It’s as if he leaves part of his autism in his duffle bag on shore along with his towel and a change of clothes. Too often Max is dismissed because of his disability, his value and purpose and dignity brought into question, but here on the water one could easily mistake him for an instructor.

I watched as the boats floated along the horizon, the line between sky and water almost indistinguishable, both bleached with light. Max looked so tiny, engulfed in the vastness of blue, every thought of autism dwarfed by the brilliant pink sky rising above him. I sat on a bench and watched as God painted His canvas around me, the marks of His hands stretching across the sky with curls and smudges and streaks. Crests of yellow-rimmed clouds dropped flecks of gold onto the waters surface. I leaned in a little closer, as if all of creation was whispering, “Open your eyes! God is near! Come closer!” The evidence of God is all around us, even in a life many would push aside. And as it turns out, my son was about to become Exhibit A.

Just as the sky was growing dark, Max and the other students paddled back toward the dock, tired but exhilarated. Max had his paddle up over his head as if finishing a marathon. “I did it, Mom,” I heard him yell before adding that he needed a roast beef sandwich and ice cream, immediately. He had just pulled up to the dock with his instructor beside him when I heard the dreaded sound.


My eyes darted across the water. Max was upright. But then I saw his instructor’s boat completely upside down, with the instructor underneath! I could hear Max gasp. A moment later, the boat flipped back up as if it were entirely planned. The instructor just shook his long blonde hair from side to side, casually sending a spray of water around him. I’m sure in some circles that move is considered cool. We parents must have looked like a line of bullfrogs, our eyes bulging at the sight.

I knew Max would panic. I could see his hand outstretched as he spoke to his instructor in what appeared to be an effort to help. But then I realized that all of the other instructors were staring at Max, wide-eyed. I leaned in a little closer –

“Because you love Jesus,” I heard Max say as he kept his hand up toward his salt-soaked instructor, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

I put my hands up over my mouth and turned toward one of the other parents, another Christian. We both fell into each other as if we’d been hit at the back of the knees with holy joy.

The instructor sat there dazed, encountering a bit more with his underwater roll than he’d expected. He fumbled for a response as the other teachers just looked on, waiting. And then, with water still dripping down his face, I saw an acknowledgment of the evidence, an acceptance of Exhibit A. “Thank you,” the instructor said to Max, as he slowly, softly, smiled.

Emily Colson

Waiting for Wisdom

Asking me to let go of worry, even in the really big stuff of life, isn’t a reasonable request. Maybe, instead, it is a remarkably gracious offer. - specialneedsparenting.net

We’re told not to worry, but what about the big stuff?


If I had more closet space, I’d probably fill it with my anxieties. Maybe I’m just expressing my inner Woody Allen, or feeling the plight of single motherhood. But sometimes I wish I had someone to help me with the really big stuff in life. The weight of responsibilities can press against me until I begin to feel like a 90 year-old woman in an Osteoporosis prevention ad. Take your calcium…or you too will hunch over and spend your life looking at your feet.

I brought Max into the hospital…again. He’s seen this oral surgeon before, as well as several others locally. But when it comes time to go forward with the surgery, I always back out. I’m sure he doesn’t actually need his wisdom teeth removed, and the small extra bonus teeth he grew are just signs of an overachiever. Those are practically trophies. I realize that a lot of people have their wisdom teeth removed successfully. And afterward they eat snow cones, watch a couple of movies, feel sore and swollen and call it a day. But they don’t have autism.

And they don’t have me for a mother.

I worry. I fret. I Google. I think of every possible thing that can go wrong, and try to come up with a solution for each of those imaginary problems. And then I try to envision how I will live with the guilt of having been the one that said yes in the first place, the one who started the whole ball of problems rolling by driving my beautiful son to the hospital in the wee hours of the morning for surgery. It’s hard work being me. After several rounds of this emotional aerobics I finally settle comfortably into denial and say, “maybe we will do it next year…maybe.”

But this time we are going forward. We have a surgery date in July.

When I started writing this blog, I wanted to tell you that it is perfectly okay to be scared, and worry, and fret, and micromanage, and still trust God. Because some situations really are bigger and scarier and more fret-worthy. My son will undergo general anesthesia. He will have several teeth removed that he might need later in life if he wanted to, say, chew. He could have a very difficult recovery and there might only be enough drugs for one of us. Many times Scripture tells not to worry, but this is not my category of worry; everyone knows that worry does not count when it is applied to a situation involving your child. A mother’s worry is part of the perpetuation and protection of the human race. It is as necessary as oxygen.

I knew others would agree. So I sat at my computer and Googled, because genuinely, I need someone to help me with the big stuff in life. First, I came across Benjamin Franklin. He was holding a key and a kite, but it was about to storm so I knew he had plenty of time to talk with me. “Ben, what do you think about my strategy?” I asked aloud as I searched his quotes. “Shouldn’t I have solutions for all the unknowns, for the problems to come, just to be ready?

“Do not anticipate trouble,” Ben said, “or worry about what may never happen. Keep in the sunlight.”

“Sunlight?” I said with my eyes wide as saucers. “Ben, it’s about to storm! And you’d better put that key down or somebody’s gonna get hurt. I’m a mom, I know this stuff.”

Let’s type in Joyce Meyer; she might be available. I’ll just throw her a question while I watch her on YouTube. “Joyce,” I said as I stared into my big shiny computer. “Help me. I know you’ve battled worry. And you’re a mom – you get it. Making back-up plans is just how we roll with autism. We’re not supposed to fly without a net, are we?”

And I heard Joyce say, “Worry is another way of saying I don’t trust God fully. I want to have a back up plan here in case He doesn’t come through.”

I stared at my glossy computer screen wishing we were on Skype, or having tea, or braiding each other’s hair. Then I could tell Joyce that her words are filled with wisdom, but they can’tpossibly apply to my situation – a time when my child is going into surgery. There must be a special dispensation for such circumstances, a piece of gold-stamped stationary with a hand written excuse. Max has never been through anything like this before. There are risks. And I’m scared.

I closed my eyes as if to block out the sound of it, the thought of it. I will do everything I can to insure Max has the best doctor, the best care. I will ask questions. I will bring in extra help. But to think I shouldn’t worry about something as big as this?

That isn’t a reasonable request.

I opened my eyes to the blur of papers cluttering my desk. Something caught my eye, a postcard standing out from the white pages like a patch of blue sky. And I read aloud the blocky hope-filled letters imprinted across the front,

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid. God will be with you and will never forsake you.” From Joshua 1:9

I breathed and sighed and looked up. A little bit of weight began to slip from my shoulders. God is with us; He promises not to leave us. And remarkably, His loving arms are outstretched as if he’s offering to hold the whole messy ball of wax, my anxieties and needs and fears and cactus-like spikes of perfectionism. He’s willing to keep it for me, to put it in His coat-check room so that I don’t have to carry it around.

One by one, I begin to pry my fingers loose. I start to get it. Asking me to let go of worry, even in the really big stuff of life, isn’t a reasonable request. Maybe, instead, it is a remarkably gracious offer.

Emily Colson

Love to the Max

Reflections on Movies, Muppets, and the Power of Redemption.

How Max's church family rallied around him to create a movie event he would never forget!  - specialneedsparenting.net

I ran to the doorway just in time to see a 37’ white stretch limousine pull up to the theater. Others jumped forward with cameras snapping pictures like paparazzi. The driver, wearing a black suit and sunglasses, stepped out of the limo and stood at attention. “They’re not ready yet,” he said in a deep gravely voice. I might have been intimidated had I not spent an hour on the phone with this gentleman just the day before; he desperately wanted to drive this limo run. It was personal.

Finally, the driver opened the back door and my son Max jumped out, his blue blazer waving with the cold March wind. And then one by one the VIP guests, five of Max’s buddies and four staff members from his day program, climbed out of the limousine. Their smiles were worthy of the silver screen.

 It was time for a Movie with Max.

When Renee first approached me with this idea, she was holding her two-week old daughter in her arms. Renee had read about our painful experience in a movie theater at Christmas, and she wanted to do something. “Do you think Max would like it if we rented a theater?” she asked, the sunlight pouring through the church windows and lighting up her hair like red autumn leaves. I’d never met this woman before; I thought she was just an idea person. But one week later Pastor Paul was giving a charge to our congregation.

He was mid-sermon, preaching from Romans, chapter 15, when he began to recount our recent experience at a movie theater. It was when Max became startled in the previews and he cried out. Other moviegoers had no patience with Max, and they ran us out of the theater. As Paul told the story, I could feel my eyes well up. And then he changed his tone. “Leaving that all behind,” Paul said with a smile, “Renee from our church got this great idea.” Paul stepped away from the podium and toward the congregation. “She rented out an entire theater so that friends of Max can watch the Muppet movie with Max.” Paul knew this was more than a movie; it was an opportunity for the church to show love, especially to those who are often pushed aside. “If you’re a friend of Max,” Paul’s voice boomed, “you’re going to the movies, whether you like Muppets or not!”

Everyone laughed. And everyone bought tickets.

For three weeks Renee and I exchanged messages like giddy school girls. Suddenly, everyone wanted to help turn a painful story into something beautiful. A local limousine company even donated the best of their fleet, and this driver pushed others aside to get this assignment. He has a grandson with autism. It was personal. Everyone from the church and community gave their very best. And they got back more than they gave.

Max and I found our seats in the theater and the lights dimmed for the start of the movie, Muppets Most Wanted. My heart was pounding and Max had little beads of sweat on his brow from his limo ride. I scanned the crowd of people around us, everyone wearing a blue wristband printed with the words “Love to the Max.” 500 people came out for this night, many with disabilities, and even more without. There were people we’d never even met. No one came into this theater hoping for a perfect experience. Instead, everyone came into this theater hoping to give someone else a perfectly wonderful experience.

The theater was remarkably quiet, until the Muppets burst into their first song. The music catapulted Max right out of his seat. He jumped forward into the center aisle and began to leap and prance before the entire audience. Dance solo is his specialty. It was exactly where we stood just months before at Christmas, in another theater, when the patrons hurled cruelty toward us. But not this time. This time hearts were open. And Max knew it too. Everyone burst into applause as Max bounced down the aisle grabbing hands and pulling others into his dance. There was lightness in the air that spread like a fragrance. It was irresistible. And all around us we could hear the noises of autism playing in surround sound, the music of our beautiful kids who don’t often use words. It sounded like praise music.

As the movie came to a close, the Muppets began to sing what was clearly the grand finale. No one wanted the evening to end. Suddenly, people flooded into the aisles as if they were leaving. But instead, they began to dance. Everyone free. No armor. No barriers between us.

I looked around in awe and wondered if this is what Jesus envisioned when he said, “Love one another.” When He spoke those words, did he picture this very moment in a theater, when love would take our breath away and lift us out of our seats. When His love would win. God’s story of redemption is written across our lives over and over again.

I turned to see if Pastor Paul was still standing in the doorway where he had been for most of the movie. It had been easy to spot him; he never stopped smiling. He started this church some 25 years ago, a church that has become home to us. But I couldn’t see past the blur of arms and legs floating through the air. The movie screen cast a light on every face, showing the beauty, as if God’s image was glowing from within. I threw my arms around Max and breathed in the sweetness. All of us in the theater, with the popcorn and the Muppets, with our abilities and disabilities, with our hearts wide open, had become as one.

“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 15:5

Written by Emily Colson

Darkness in a Theater

shutterstock_Darkness in a theaterWe came to see a movie. But I never imagined that we would become the entertainment.


Patty and I found our pre-assigned seats and sunk into the plush leather, with Max sandwiched between us. Despite the exorbitant ticket price, this posh new cinema was completely full. I studied those around us searching for a smile, which is the gold star sticker of acceptance. But no one seemed to notice Max. As we sat waiting for the film I marveled that we could be part of this audience, sitting like everyone else enjoying Christmas with their families. We became something bigger than just us; we were a school of fish moving together in unity, gliding through the deep blue. Max’s eyes darted around the room, his pupils like black pools as the lights dimmed.


“Don’t worry if Max gets anxious in the beginning of the movie,” I whispered to my step-mom Patty. “He needs a few minutes to adjust, and then he loves it.” I felt a little rush of pride come over me, with a desperate hope that it would actually work. Sitting at the movies is one of our hard-earned victories. But after 23 years, I know that life with autism is predictably unpredictable. I clutched my bag under my arm, with Max’s teddy bear peeking out of the top just like the Hollywood starlets carry their Chihuahuas.


The first preview started with eardrum-breaking volume. “I want to go home!” Max shrieked as he folded over his ears. I leaned in quickly, knowing the drill. “It’s ok Max. Our movie will start in a minute. This will stop.” Just as Max was about to completely unravel, our great green friend appeared like an angel on the screen, but with the potential for warts. It was Kermit, as big as a house. Max’s face relaxed, “The Muppet movie!” Max cried out in a jubilant voice that carried unfortunately well with the fine acoustics of the theater. “And Fozzy Bear!” Max laughed nearly slapping his knee. It was apparent that, despite their best efforts, these felt puppets were not bringing joy to the rest of the audience. I leaned into Max and pointed to our movie theater rules. “Whisper voice,” I reminded him.


Finally our feature started, and once again the change startled Max. “I want to go home!” His voice cracked across the silent theater.


But he was quickly drowned out.


“Are you going to make him be quiet?” The older woman next to Patty exploded with aggravation.

Patty leaned toward her and explained, “He is autistic and…”

“I know he is,” the woman shot back as she lunged forward and pounded on her chest. “But why should the rest of us have to suffer.”

“If you don’t make him be quiet,” her husband shouted, “I’m calling the manager!”


I desperately needed an oxygen mask to drop from the ceiling. I couldn’t breath. There in 3D surround sound, my own horror movie began to play.


I threw my hand up toward them in a stop motion. It works for policemen. And I desperately, achingly, wanted it to stop. “Ok. Ok,” I said. “Just give us a minute.” It takes both great finesse and a forklift for Max to leave quickly. My heart leapt into my throat as if it were trying to make an escape before the rest of us. At another time I might have defended our right to be there, but I could hear a strange rumbling of underground thunder. After a minute of dust-flinging commotion, Max stood up beside me, with Patty soon to follow.


And the thunder grew louder.


It was applause for our exit. It was the sound of an angry mob chasing us away with their jeers and taunts.


“And don’t come back,” I heard as we slowly made our way down the stairs in the dark.


I tried to block Max from the view of the crowd, my every step labored, detached, brittle. I wanted to throw my arms around Max to remind him, and everyone else, of just how deeply he is loved. But I couldn’t make my arms work. As we neared the exit, passing center stage, I heard a voice from the back of the theater. It was a man shouting over the thunder of the crowd like a crack of lightening.


“He’s retarded.”


I lost all bearings. I even lost track of watching Max. I stopped and turned toward the sea of faces lit up by the screen behind me. They were colorless, floating, with their little fish eyes watching our every move. The movie must have been showing on top of my silhouette. I don’t know if they could see my hand clutching over my heart, my chest heaving for a breath. I tried to squeak something out, but a Boa constrictor had wrapped itself around my throat. I had to find some kind of answer to such cruelty, some memorable response to wash this away.


“There is a lesson here,” I began as I forced my tiny voice forward fearing the movie sound track would suddenly drown me out. “A lesson that is so much more important than anything you will learn from this movie.”


I turned back toward the exit, my arms and legs stiff like metal rods. But just as we were about to walk out, the voice from the back of the room struck again.


“Merry Christmas!” he called to us sarcastically. It was a kick in the back on our way out the door, a final deathblow meant for purely perverse entertainment.


I looked back up at the crowd once more. The little girl in me wanted to storm up those stairs and throw over the monopoly board. Fortunately the grown-up part of me was numb. Plus, I knew I was outnumbered. Just minutes ago, I was a card-carrying member of this audience. And sadly, despite everything that would speak to the contrary, despite my desperate desire for it to be untrue, I knew I still was. I shuddered at the truth of it, at the vile potential of every human heart. Including my own. And then came the strangest sense of clarity, the tiniest bit of perfect peace.




It was a nudge of truth from the Holy Spirit. Even as I share this story with you days later, I feel it. Christmas…when God sent his only Son into the angry lynch mob of the world that groans with self-serving demands and cruelty and hate, to bring us light in our darkness. To bring us healing for our utterly disabled souls. To save us from ourselves – something we cannot do. I couldn’t wait to get my son out of there. But Christmas…Christmas is when God, in his lavish love for us, chose to send his only Son right into this carnage. Christmas is God’s answer to the evil in every human heart.


We stood just a step from the theater exit, my chance for the last word. With my hand still clutching my chest, I scraped up every shred of kindness I could pull together in my fragile splintered self, and breathed words of hope back to the audience, and to myself.


“Merry Christmas,” I whispered.


And the words spilled around us like a little pool of light.


“In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:4-5

Is He Ready? On Helping Our Children Transition to Adulthood

There’s an expression I heard just after graduating from college, back when I was fresh-faced with optimism, living on instant coffee, and in need of a great job.

“Luck,” so this saying went, “is when preparation meets opportunity.”

At 23 years of age, this was a revelation. Suddenly, luck wasn’t some random commodity floating around in the air; it was actually within my control. I could catch it, hold it in my pocket like a rabbit’s foot, and make it my own. If I worked my hardest, I’d be ready when opportunity came along. And there is some truth in this. But, as those of us with special needs children know, life isn’t always lived out in bumper sticker slogans.

Wednesday was an extra special day for my son, Max, who is now the fresh-faced 23 year-old. He jumped out of bed, which for Max happens just slightly faster than a slug slipping off a log, and pulled on a brand new shirt. He patted the store logo on the front pocket and yelled, “They need you, on the work crew! Stocking shelves is what we do!” He threw his hands up into the air as if he were riding a roller coaster, and we both cheered. This would be Max’s first day on the job. He will work just two hours every Wednesday morning, but it’s two hours that make the whole week smile.

Of course I shared the news with everyone I know, and even some I don’t. “Max is a hard worker,” I‘d say. “He’s so proud to have a job.” The more I shared the news, the more I began to wonder how a picture of Max would look on just the smallest of announcements in the Wall Street Journal. When I told one friend who is quite savvy – she works with kids with autism and has known Max for years – I knew she’d be excited. “Max’s day program secured the position,” I told her. “And he has the perfect job coach to help him. It’s a great opportunity.” She was quiet for a moment, and then ever so slowly, cautiously, said into the phone, “I’m not sure Max is ready.”

My mind swirled. I wanted to jump through the phone and tell her that Max will be the best employee that store has ever seen. But even with all Max has to offer, I knew that wasn’t necessarily true. I began to picture what it might look like if Max weren’t actually ready for this job. What’s the worst that could happen? Floods? Plagues? Locusts? Or could there be customers who would complain about my son? What if the management complained? The thought of it made me feel immobilized, as if someone had just tied a cinder block around my ankles. And Max’s life.

And then I thought about my own life.

Not much of my life’s journey was on my radar back when I was graduating from college. There have been obstacles I couldn’t have imagined. But those obstacles have revealed opportunities – not because I thought I was completely prepared, or even ready – but because God is at work. He invites each of us to step forward, to risk living with vulnerabilities, even to accept that we are wholly inadequate for the task on our own.

“You’re right,” I said finally agreeing with my friend. “Max isn’t ready for this job.” As the words left my mouth I felt a sudden rush of excitement again. “But maybe it isn’t always about being ready. Maybe sometimes it’s just about saying, Yes.’

Hi from Emily…

Max 1st choice-0004If smoke comes out of your computer, it’s my fault. I’m in the midst of setting up my own website. Yes, this is Emily. If you know me, you can get up off the floor now. I’m glad to give you a laugh – technology is not exactly my strength! But as my mom tells me, I have “plucky perseverance.” So I’m giving it a try.

Last month I wrote a post that went viral. And that was that. My site crashed, or sunk, or exploded – I mix up those technical terms. So please be patient with me. I’ll try to get my speaking schedule up soon. And maybe a blog. Or maybe I’ll be very very busy calling someone who actually knows how to do this. So for now…

You can always contact me on facebook.

Or send me a message at EmilyColsonMinistries@gmail.com