Tag Archives: Encouragement

What happens when you yell at church?


Something happened at church. Or perhaps what you need to know is, what didn’t happen.

I pulled up to the church and Max bounced out of the car swinging his favorite vacuum. Several people were unsuspectingly milling around by the front door, exchanging greetings. “Watch out for the people!” I yelled behind Max as I watched his 8-pound Oreck swing like a ten ton wrecking ball. I fully expected to see the crowd part like the Red Sea, people diving into the bushes head first as Max and his vacuum bolted toward them. But instead, they extended their arms for a handshake, or a pat on his back.

Every time I walk through the doors of our church I remember the years we lived in isolation, and the five years of staying home on Sunday mornings when we could not find our place. Autism held us hostage. But it is not a bitter memory; it is the soil from which God grew a victory. When I cross that threshold now with Max, it feels like holy ground. Max comes most Sundays to serve as a greeter, and at the Welcome Center, and as part of the clean up team, otherwise known as the “Grunt Crew.” Max has clearly been given one of the lesser-known spiritual gifts of vacuuming. But what has changed Max’s life is what has changed mine: he is loved. He belongs. He is indispensable. We have been back at church for twelve years now, and none of this has been easy; sitting quietly is not part of Max’s skill set. But it’s as if the whole church is learning to breathe a little deeper, and in that, we find there is enough room for everyone.

After a wonderful and slightly aerobic morning, we could see from our seats at the Welcome Center that Pastor Paul was finishing up the message, or “the talking” as Max calls it. That’s Max’s cue. He flew into the sanctuary and took his position in the back. This is Max’s spot, up several stairs beside the sound booth. He worships there most Sundays, all 190 pounds of him, dancing above the congregation. Most Sundays Max bounces so hard that one would expect him to go right through the wooden platform floor, dunk tank style. But he won’t. Some of the men at church noticed the same risk. They got together one day and reinforced the floor where Max dances. It was months before anyone told me what the men had done. There was no mention of cost or inconvenience; no suggestion that perhaps the sound booth should not be used as a 1960’s GoGo booth. Instead, they just strengthened the floor. Maybe this is what we all want – to find the spot where we belong, and to know that others will hold us up in it. My friend, Pastor Brooks, said to me recently, “We move from a family attending church, to a church that becomes a family.”

Max and I could now see the music team taking their positions on stage. Max started dancing even before the music began, bouncing on his toes as if he were walking on hot sand. He was extra excited this morning, anticipating our church picnic that would follow the service. But when the music started, it wasn’t a dance song at all. Instead, it was slow and piercing, a quiet rhythm that pulled us forward. Everything became still. There was a shift in the room, as if the Spirit was pouring in like a gentle tide, surrounding us, lifting us, washing over our feet. The entire church rose in unison to stand in the deep, with our hearts turned to God. And when the song ended, no one moved.

Well, almost no one.

Max could no longer contain himself. He threw his arms over his head and leapt from the platform. He got some good air and then stuck the landing with the precision of a Russian gymnast. And when he landed, he yelled. Loudly. This was not your average run of the mill shout, or even the kind of noise one might expect when leaping from such a height. No, this was the kind of sound one exerts when instigating a food fight.

“BAR-BE-QUE! Max yelled across the church, his arms still stretched to the sky.

I ducked down to make myself slightly more invisible in the now well-lit church, wishing there were a dressing room curtain I could quickly hide behind.

Through squinting eyes I watched as the church moved in unison once again. But this time every head fell forward, every shoulder curled. It was as if a single rogue wave had crashed over the entire congregation. A moment later those same heads bobbed back up for air with a burst of laughter that filled the sanctuary. And then the most remarkable thing happened. Or perhaps, didn’t happen.

No one stared…or sighed…or scowled. No one even turned around to see where the sound had come from. Instead, every person just wiped the salty spray from their faces and turned to smile at the person beside them. The same sweeping tide that had lifted us to God in worship was drawing us together in love.

Max darted into the crowd and started shaking hands with people as if he were campaigning for office. I just leaned against that reinforced platform, trying to decide if this was completely embarrassing, or achingly beautiful. And then I heard something in the distance. It was a man’s voice, rising above the laughter in the church,

“That’s our Max.”

1 Corinthians 12:18,22  “But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be…those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”

Thank you friends,

Emily Colson

My Thanks to the Stranger

Years ago the grocery store was the last place I wanted to go with my son with autism. Now, it’s the place I don’t want to leave. 

 I followed my son into the tiny grocery, his steps bouncing so high that I thought he might lift right off the ground. He dashed behind the counter and slipped off his coat so that everyone could see the store logo on his shirt. Max is so proud to put on that shirt in the morning, to wake up with purpose. It’s the same eagerness evident in everyone at Max’s day program, a true appreciation for the privilege of working. The other employees in the store burst into smiles as they welcomed Max to work. As I waved goodbye, I gave my son a huge silent cheer and a double thumbs up. I must have looked like one of those over-zealous moms at their child’s first kindergarten play.

Max’s teacher, Kacey, greeted him warmly and the two of them walked toward the refrigerators at the back of the store. Max loves refrigerators. He can identify any refrigerator—anywhere—by the brand, temperature setting, and fan system. He is like the CSI of appliances. I could see Max at the back of the store now holding up a bottle of cleaner and giving the first glass door a few sprays. He was focused, working so quickly that it was like watching a speeded up movie reel. I was mesmerized; I couldn’t leave. And there was Kacey, standing back just enough to let him soar.

To imagine this victory years ago would have been impossible. When Max was younger, he couldn’t even walk through a grocery store. The sights and sounds and smells overwhelmed him. And he was terrified of commercial refrigerators, often melting down before we even walked into a store. He didn’t have the language to explain any of it back then. We stopped going to the grocery…and the pharmacy…and just about everywhere else. For far too many years, autism held us hostage. Even now, nothing is easy about this journey.

But sometimes victories come. Today, at age 25, my son now works in a grocery store.

Then just a few weeks ago, something happened. Kacey couldn’t wait to tell me. It made our years of isolation and struggle come full circle. A customer had come into the store and noticed Max. Actually, it’s hard not to notice someone who works with as much enthusiasm as Tigger. Kacey hadn’t seen anyone watching; just business as usual. But when Max finished his shift, the cashier had something extra for Max.

Max $10 tipApparently, when that customer saw Max working, he stepped in. He approached the counter and handed the cashier a $10 bill. “This is to buy that young man lunch,” he said as he pointed to Max, “Because he is working so hard.”

“Mom?” Max called as he suddenly noticed me hiding in the canned goods isle, watching him work. “Are you going home?”

“Oh…yeah Max,” I said, pulling my emotions together and quickly searching for an excuse for why I was still in the store after dropping him off. “I’m just…looking at something,” I said as I held up a can and pretended to read the label. My vision was blurry with tears as I stepped out of the aisle and waved goodbye to Max again. But he didn’t lose his focus. He just turned back to the job he was doing. After all, he had work to do. It was business as usual.

By Emily Colson

My deepest thanks to all those who help our loved ones with autism serve and work in the community, and to every stranger that steps into the joy of our hard-fought victories. 

Photo credit: Kacey O’Gara

Those Words that Let Us Know We Aren’t Alone

Those Words that Let Us Know We Aren't Alone - specialneedsparents.net

I brought my son Max to a neurophysiologist’s office for an evaluation. If you aren’t familiar with a “neuropsych eval,” it is a two-hour process in which you must:

1) Sit

2) Remain sitting

3) Give the allusion that you are paying attention while you remain sitting.

Back then, when Max was nine years old, and already years into the diagnosis of autism, fulfilling any of these three requirements was as likely as sprouting gills. Actually, it’s a little known fact that Einstein came up with his Theory of Relativity (E=MC2, the idea that everything in the universe is in constant motion) by watching a child with autism take a neuropsych eval.

As we finished the testing I could feel my shoulders pull tightly toward my neck, like involuntary isometric exercises. I braced myself for the doctor’s response. And do you know what he said about Max?

Neither do I.

All these years later, I don’t remember the results. But I vividly remember how the doctor said it.

“Our kids usually test this way,” he said.

I stared at this man who had a long string of letters after his name, and I wondered, did he mean to say that? And then, he said it again.

Our kids … something-something-something.”

‘Our kids?’  I thought. He didn’t say your kid. He said, “Our kids.”

As a single mom – overwhelmed, living as a hostage of autism, feeling isolated and alone – that little word “our” rolled through my mind and knocked down everything in it’s path. Suddenly, everything crumbled. This wall of anxiety that was bracing me for the terrible news that would certainly be delivered, the intense weight of feeling like I am doing this alone – it all dropped away. Even my steel plated protective armor, that has taken me years to build, fell right off.

But he didn’t stop there. This doctor added other tiny little two-letter words. Words that would never be considered interesting enough to qualify for a spelling bee championship, or fashionable enough to tattoo on one’s arm. They would be considered vocabulary light.

He began to say, “We” and “Us.”

My brain pulled out a giant blue pen and drew circles around those unifying words. And my shoulders began to drop. Autism is too big to be a me; I need to be a we. I need to have more “our” and “us” in my life. I wanted to jump up and hug this man, or burst into tears, or ask him if we could be facebook friends once someone invented it. But instead I put my arm around my beautiful, wiggly, E=MC2 son, knowing I was far less alone than when I walked in.

“Thank you,” I said softly, wondering if he understood the power of those words.

By 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

The Certainty of Risk

Something redeeming happens when you admit your deepest hurts—you meet people.

People become part of the healing.

Something redeeming happens when you admit your deepest hurts—you meet people who becoming part of your healing.

My son Max and I had a terrible experience when we went to the movies last month. Maybe you read about it. Max broke movie theater etiquette and was talking through the previews, laughing too loudly at Kermit. But there was more… he panicked a few times when the volume of the previews frightened him. Autism makes his sensory system fragile. Max would have been ok but the audience was not – they jeered us out of the theater before the feature even began. We never saw the movie, but thousands saw the blog post I wrote after our experience.

Everyone weighed in. Suddenly it felt as if the whole world was sitting in that theater with us. Some threw their arms around us. Others were horrified at the cruel potential of the human heart. Many shared similar experiences. But then there were the others…the people who were outraged that I would bring Max to a movie theater if I knew he might disrupt. I didn’t read all the ugly comments – I learned a few things living through Watergate. I prayed for God to give me wisdom, to give me grace, and like the Cowardly Lion…c-c-courage. I resolved to not let this movie theater experience change the way we live.

But it did.

It was almost three weeks before I summoned the courage to take Max out again. As we sat in our favorite restaurant I studied the waitress – she was new. I sized up the group of teenage girls sitting across from us. I watched the people around us just to see if they were watching us. I felt debilitatingly self-aware, like Junior High only with better skin. I don’t know what was going through Max’s mind, but he appeared more confident than me, so happy to be out on an adventure again. He guzzled down his lemonade and ate his French fries as if he were sending branches through a tree chipper.

And then, just for the sake of evening atmosphere, the restaurant dimmed the lights. And then…turned up the music. Max cringed, dropped his food, and grabbed for his ears. He pressed his hands against the sides of his head and looked at me desperately. I reached across the table for him, fearful that he would cry out, afraid of a movie theater rerun. “Make it quieter, make it quieter,” he whispered to me. I cupped my hands around his sweet baby face, and told him it would be ok. My eyes darted around the room – why did we risk coming out again? I wanted to put up a little force field so that no one would notice us.

But someone did.

She was all the way on the other side of the restaurant, and she was watching Max. And then I saw her nearly sprint toward the hostess desk. This does not sit well when I am dealing with paranoia. I took a deep breath as she made eye contact with me and mouthed some words into the air.

I squinted my eyes to see that it was our waitress. What could she possibly be saying to me? As I caught each word that floated across the restaurant it look as if she where saying, “I – can – turn – it – down.” My eyes widened. And then she reached up to a black box on the wall and the music grew softer again.

Max sat back up and his arms dropped to his sides. All of his muscles loosened. His entire body smiled. I never expect someone to accommodate for our needs; we do our best to fit into the often-treacherous terrain of this world. We aim for our version of success, and always keep plan B, and C, in our back pocket. And every now and then, a kind, strong stranger steps in and throws a few rocks off our path.

I tried to get the attention of our waitress again, but she was already off to another table. When she finally came over, I thanked her profusely. At another time I might have missed such kindness. But when you’ve seen how dark the world can be, the tiniest act of selfless grace can bring true healing to the soul. And remind us that every life has the power to affect another.

“No problem,” she said shyly. I watched her face closely, curiously. I wondered about her own story of hurts and bumps and bruises. Of rocks in her path.

“You are very thoughtful,” I said looking up at her and patting Max’s forearm as if speaking for him too. “And you’re very kind,” I affirmed in a very Mr. Rogers sort of way. I tried my best to press a little more goodness into the hard rocky soil of this world, to give words that might blossom in the heart. I waited for her to respond, wondering if she might need a little healing too. But she just looked down at her notepad and let her thin brown hair fall around her face.

“Can I get you anything else?” she asked. And though she tried to hide it, I know I saw her smile.

Emily Colson