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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 ColsonThis entry was posted in ADHD, Asperger, Autism, Behaviors, Church, Down Syndrome, Emily Colson, Joy, Living In The Moment, Living Life Daily, Love, Scripture, Worship and tagged autism, Emily Colson, Encouragement, faith, not alone, parenting, parenting a child with special needs, special needs on July 1, 2016 by emily.
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.
Apparently, when that customer saw Max working, he stepped in. He approached the counter and handed the cashier a 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’GaraThis entry was posted in Autism, Emily Colson, Joy, Living Life Daily, Uncategorized and tagged autism, Dancing With Max, Emily Colson, Encouragement, hope, not alone, parenting a child with special needs, parenting special needs, special needs, Special Needs parents on April 1, 2016 by emily.
God has a plan for His church, and no matter how challenging, His plan includes us.
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SaveThis entry was posted in Autism, Church, Emily Colson and tagged autism, Christmas, Dancing With Max on February 5, 2016 by emily.
My dad would often tell me that when Billy Graham was asked what surprised him most about life, he answered, “the brevity of it all.” It’s true—all of a sudden it’s 2016 and my son Max has just turned 25. Along with brevity, this new year’s day reminds me of several other startling truths:
1) It is becoming less plausible that I’m carrying postpartum baby weight.
2) Max has grown a beard, which means he looks far more sophisticated when he carries a teddy bear.
3) We have survived a quarter-century of life with autism.
But something happened 10 years ago that has made me acutely aware of the brevity of life, and gave me just the push I needed.
Max was 15 at the time. Even thought he was in a wonderful school, my legs were like rubber as I walked into our team meeting. A dozen well-dressed individuals were seated around the long conference room table. As I thanked the staff for their hard work with Max, I could hear my own heart pounding as if the base were turned up too loud on a radio.
We discussed Max’s progress, and challenges, and the goals for the next year. It was going well, until we came to the parent vision statement, a section on his Education Plan giving parents an undisputed voice to share their hopes and dreams for their child’s future. The teacher read through the words from last year’s education plan, a vision I had worked so hard to write.
“How does it sound? Is this still your vision for Max’s future?” the teacher asked, as she sat behind her laptop and looked up at the screen.
My head went light and I could barely read the words on the screen.
“It’s fine,” I mumbled weakly. But it wasn’t fine. I was doe-eyed from the phone call with my surgeon, which had taken place just minutes before this team meeting had begun. I had been sitting in the school parking lot, phone pressed up against my ear, sucked back against the front seat of my car as if my body had been glued there by centrifugal force. The doctor gave me the surgical choices I would have to make to treat the rare form of melanoma that was once just a small dark ink-drop on my thigh. And then he gave me my odds of survival.
As I sat beneath the bright florescent lights in the conference room, surrounded by Max’s team, one thought began pounding in my head like a sledgehammer.
What if I’m not here next year to sit in another team meeting?
What if this is my last chance to speak up?
As if propelled by force, my words burst out. “I’d like to add something to my vision statement,” I said.
“OK,” the teacher said as she held her fingers to the keys, waiting.
All of my splintered thoughts collected into one, and in that moment I spoke with complete clarity.
“I want my son to become a man of God.”
Silence hung in the air, which only grew my resolve. We live in one of the most liberal states in the country, but I did not flinch, or explain myself. I did not have time. I became a graffiti artist marking a bridge or a building, a prisoner scratching his name on a cell wall. I knew this had to be the one lasting mark I would leave on my son’s life. This was my vision for my child’s future.
The room was silent. No one moved, not even me. And then I began to hear a soft clicking sound, like summer rain.
I didn’t even recognize the noise until I looked over and saw the teacher beginning to type. Slowly the words came to life on the screen, and in that moment, became an irrevocable part of my son’s Education Plan.
When she finished typing I held still. No one even breathed. Finally the older gentleman sitting across from me threw himself back in his chair and laughed as if he’d been holding it in for decades.
“In all my years,” he roared as he held his stomach like Santa Claus, “I have never seen anything like this in an Ed Plan!” His head darted from side to side, as he looked at the others who still sat stunned around the table.
I braced myself for opposition, to be told that my words about God could not be included in a state document, but instead an eruption of laughter and cheering filled the conference room. “This is great!” I heard a man yell. “Remember this moment! I think we just made history!” someone shouted. But I didn’t join in. I didn’t even respond. I just stared up at the words on the brightly lit screen. “For Max to become a man of God.”
Last week Max turned 25, our quarter of a century victory mark.
We have more than survived.
And my son is a mighty man of God, the mark that only God can place in a heart.
Today as we enter into 2016, may we go forward with boldness in our faith, remembering life is brief. This is our chance. Let’s do what matters most.
“This one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:13 – 14
Blessings and Joy to you in 2016
Emily ColsonThis entry was posted in Autism, Emily Colson on January 1, 2016 by emily.
I started to write you a charming little story and was halfway through…when Tuesday night hit.
Let me just say that most of our days and nights are good. Not easy, but good.
For the past two months, however, Tuesday nights have been different. It’s as if autism grabs hold of our lives like a 1950’s sci-fi flick, the one with the pretty little plant that suddenly starts eating unsuspecting by-passers. But there are no cheesy special effects here. No curtain to peel back to see what’s behind. It is 2am, and life is loud and messy, all of our tried and true strategies failing.
I breathe in and force prayer into my mind and mouth, to drown out the noise and my ugly thoughts.
I ask God for strength for the next second.
I blow it.
And then I ask Him again.
Finally the raging battle, which is too big to be fought on earth alone, subsides. It is quiet. My son is asleep.
I stand in the bathroom with my toothbrush in hand. I have no energy to fall on my knees, or close my eyes. “This is really difficult,” I tell God as if He were standing in the bathroom beside me, helping me to hold the weight of my toothbrush. “I know you are here with us. I know, even when it is this hard.”
I turn on the television to clear my mind. I watch an ad for a body lotion that will shimmer in the light and make your arms “look thinner and more toned in your holiday dress” the voice claims. And then I hear about a door buster sale, with record-breaking low prices, on toys. More and more toys.
So let me clear through all the clutter and noise – in the midst of the Christmas season, in the midst of your Tuesday nights, or Wednesday mornings, or Saturday afternoons. There is one truth. Jesus.
God sent his one and only Son, Jesus, into this world as a tiny baby. He sent His Son into this world of Tuesday nights, to be our hope. God planned this before He ever created you or me, knowing that this world, and our hearts, would be filled with brokenness and struggle. He knows it’s difficult. He has not forgotten us. He tells us, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” He tells us, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you.” He tells us, He knows the plans he has for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us a hope and a future. God sent His Son Jesus into this world so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus is all that is true and noble and right and pure. Jesus is the One Truth left standing when all else has crumbled.
So I will save that charming story for another time. Because right now someone else might be standing in a bathroom at 3am with a toothbrush that is too heavy to hold alone. And if that someone is you, take comfort.
There is One Truth we can hold onto.
It is the same Truth that holds the whole world together.
EmilyThis entry was posted in Autism, Behaviors, Emily Colson, Living Life Daily, Love, Patience, Peace and tagged autism, autism spectrum, christian parenting, Emily Colson, not alone, parenting a child with special needs, parenting special needs, support, weary on December 4, 2015 by emily.
“Max!” I said with the kind of enthusiasm I hoped would be contagious, “We are going to like this new doctor. He has a daughter with autism!”
I tried to mask my own nerves, wondering how we would get through the next-day’s appointment in the city. I watched Max for a reaction as he bounced in his seat and started eating his dinner in a style reminiscent of a wood-chipper. Sometimes dinner in our house is so active that I think our dining room chairs should be equipped with seat belts.
“Max,” I cried excitedly drawing his attention away from the — gluten-free — grain-free — dairy-free — creation that only resembles food by the fact that it is on a plate.
“Who else has autism?”
Max’s eyes brightened. “Max has autism!” he answered, sitting up a little taller in his chair.
“Yeah! That’s right!” I cheered. “So we like this doctor already!”
Our over-zealous dinner conversation hung in the air as I took my first bite of dinner. The word autism has been a part of the conversation in our home since Max was very young. But on this night, when I gave that word a purely positive spin with Max, I felt like a fraud. I’m not telling him the whole story. And in truth, I don’t know the whole story Max would tell me. What would he say about autism?
Thoughts of this journey and the bittersweet sound of the word swirled in my mind. None of this has been easy, yet God has made it beautiful. Autism has been the fertile ground in which God has grown my faith. And it is the ground from which God has brought love and joy and goodness to us, and to others. There have been victories so sweet that I can almost feel myself climbing the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, hands thrown up in the air like Rocky Balboa, shouting that we are more than conquerors in Christ Jesus.
And then there are the other times…the not so pretty times…when autism collides with life and I fall face down in exhaustion, in weakness, breathing out one-word prayers that lift above me like a feather in the wind.
“Help.” “Father.” “Help.”
And God hears.
But…Max. What would he say about autism?
“Max,” I said, placing my fork down on my plate and gently turning toward him. “Can you tell me something about autism?” The question lumped in my throat.
Max took another bite of food, as if he hadn’t heard me. I silently reprimanded myself for such an open-ended question. Max struggles with conversation, and especially with questions as big as this one.
I turned back to my dinner and pushed my food around knowing I could let that question float away unanswered. Maybe I didn’t really want to know the truth. What if he told me it was painful, or that he feels frustrated by the challenges, or even that he is simply tired of it all? Because I’m sure, at times, that is true. But God loves me enough to hear my words of pain and struggle when I turn to him. So Max deserves the same, for me to love him enough to hear his truth as well.
I leaned toward him and slid my hand along the table to gently, bravely, ask for his attention. Max is so handsome, almost 25 years old now, and a Christian; he belongs to God. He has touched more lives with is sweet spirit, and his uncontainable enthusiasm, than most anyone I know. I smiled as I caught a glimpse of his missing sideburn, the result of his overly efficient shaving experience the night before.
“Max,” I breathed, “Can you tell me two things you want someone to know about autism?”
He looked down and, without hesitation, spoke two simple words that left me speechless…
By Emily Colson
Photo credit: Kacey O’GaraThis entry was posted in Asperger, Autism, Emily Colson, Love, Peace and tagged Dancing With Max, Emily Colson, love, parenting a child with special needs, parenting special needs, special needs, Special Needs parents, weary on November 6, 2015 by emily.
I’m letting you in on the start of a God-inspired project. I don’t know how it’s going to play out, but I do know one thing: life with special needs requires a team. So that’s exactly what we’re doing – building a team around our family.
A few weeks ago I bravely sent a letter to 9 people in Max’s life inviting them to be a part of this team – teachers, buddies from church, family. I’ve attached that letter below. I’m happy to say all 9 have accepted. What a great start!
I hope you’ll follow along as I share progress reports and next steps on this team-building journey. Most of all, I hope you’ll be inspired to build a team around your own family. Here we go…
It’s Emily Colson here. I have an idea that I’d like to share. It’s a vision for life lived as a “we,” and not a “me.”
Let me explain.
You know Max – he’s 24, totally awesome, and has a diagnosis of autism. When Max attended school, he had a team. It’s the way school systems work for children with special needs. Max’s team was made up of people from many different disciplines, each bringing their expertise. We held an annual TEAM meeting, and kept in touch throughout the year. Whenever a new challenge came up, the TEAM was on it. We were unified by our common desire for Max’s best.
And then Max graduated…and the word “TEAM” quickly dropped from our vocabulary.
But here is the reality: Autism is a team sport. It requires coordination. It calls for a coach. It can’t be done alone. So bear with me – this is a work in progress.
Right now our lives look like this:
Max and I are in the center, and we are connected to many wonderful and amazing people for whom we are deeply thankful. This is great…until an emergency arises. Or until I’m too tired or overwhelmed to hold things together. Or until one of those giant cartoon anvils drops from the sky, the one that has “1 TON” written on the side, and flattens me like a paper doll.
So, I’m writing to ask you, as someone very special in Max’s life, if you would be willing to let us connect the dots between you and others around Max. I’d like our lives and relationships to form a circle rather than spokes. People in our lives will get to know one another, and bonds will become stronger. Through this process, a complete circle would be built around us, a team of people Max and I can go to.
This would become our Go2 Team!
Our lives would begin to look more like this:
It’s the same principal that makes a wheel roll instead of thump.
This is where you come in! Would you consider being a part of our Go2 Team?
Of course, you might want to know exactly what this Go2 Team is, and just as importantly, what it is not. Let’s start with what it is not.
What the Go2 Team is not:
It is not people who will let me off the hook for the things I am responsible for as Max’s mother. It is not people who will be expected to cover Max when I am away, although some of the team members already serve in this role. It is not people I can call on a whim, like when there is a large bug in my house. Although at times this is actually an emergency. It is not a popularity contest. It is not the same as a legal guardian. It is not people who will make decisions without me, or instead of me. It is not people who will be asked to take over in case I decide to live in a hut in Tahiti. (Don’t worry, I won’t – there are bugs)
What the Go2 Team is:
It is a team I can Go2 when a problem is too big for me to think through alone. It will be a Max “think tank,” if you will. It is a team I can Go2 when the person covering Max gets hit with food poisoning, and I’m all the way in California, or Delaware, or a lounging leisurely at a spa (well, it might happen) and I can’t find anyone to step in. I could send one email asking the Go2 Team to either step in or reach out to their connections – our family or church or Max’s day program for example – and sound the alarm. It is a team I can Go2 when there is a looming concern on the horizon, and when there is a big accomplishment to be celebrated. It is a team that could spring into action in case of an emergency, and help each other navigate an otherwise complicated path. It is a team I can Go2 when I am exhausted, overwhelmed, or when that one-ton anvil has made contact.
We would be a team. Not necessarily an every day team, but a ready and willing team.
Now…there is still a problem.
Autism is complicated. If there really were an emergency, and I became suddenly unavailable, our Go2 Team would need to do more than just pull together as a team – they would need fast advice. Certainly, there would be questions about support services and insurance and medical care and more. And it would be difficult to know where to begin. Yes, I have a “Max Book” to cover the basics, and files organized in a file cabinet. But the Go2 Team would need more. Where would the Go2 Team go for more information and advice?
It looks like we need another circle beyond our Go2 Team.
If we built a second outer circle for emergency help, it could include autism specialists, the family support personnel from state agencies, our pastor, a deacon at our church, disability ministry friends, a representative from Max’s past school program, a representative from Max’s day program, past and present teachers, and Max’s doctors. These are people who know and care about Max, and who have access to his history and story and records. Only those who state a willingness to offer individual guidance in the event of an emergency would be listed in this second circle of support.
Since this outer circle is where the Go2 Team can go for help in an emergency, let’s call this second outer circle the Go4 Team!
Our lives will start to look like this:
Now, this thing is going to roll!
Of course, individuals may come in and out of both of these circles. The most important thing is that everyone will stay connected. I will have a team to reach out to when life gets complicated. And the team around Max will have a place to go for help and advice in an emergency. And when all of this happens, the weight of the really big challenges will become lighter, the joy of accomplishments will become greater, and the bonds between those who love and care about Max will become deeper.
And I can live life as a we, and not a me.
Now, about that flight to Tahiti.
This entry was posted in Asperger, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, Emily Colson, Epilepsy, Medically Fragile, Mental Illness and tagged autism, christian parenting, Emily Colson, family support, not alone, parenting special needs, special needs, special needs parenting, Special Needs parents, support system on September 4, 2015 by emily.
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:
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 ColsonThis entry was posted in Autism, Behaviors, Emily Colson and tagged autism, Emily Colson, Encouragement, grace, not alone, parenting a child with special needs, power of words on August 21, 2015 by emily.
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Max galloped across the quarter-mile field toward the Old North Bridge, one hand holding imaginary reigns and the other hand holding the failing elastic in his shorts. “I’m Paul Revere!” he shouted as he passed by other less enthusiastic visitors. Max loves everything about the Revolutionary War. He loves the facts, dates, soldiers, and he might even go for a pair of wool knickers if they came with more efficient elastic at the waist. But there is something else he loves about visiting the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, the very site where the Revolutionary War began.
He loves the freedom.
There are few places where I can let go of Max’s hand, few times when there is not someone within grabbing distance of my fast moving 24 year-old son with autism. It means my everyday life is filled with darting and lifting and intervals of high aerobic activity – like Cross Fit. It is easy to become weary, and yet this journey is a remarkable privilege. God gives me the opportunity to defend, protect, and by even the smallest of gestures, affirm the value of human life. This is the square inch of territory God has asked me to steward.
I watched from a distance as my son ran along the path toward the Old North Bridge, his feet kicking up a whirling circle of dust like the Roadrunner. I finally caught up with him at one of the monuments. Max climbed the stone steps and traced his fingers over the worn letters as he did his best to read each word. Max has gained such independence that I could stand at a distance and, perhaps for the first time, truly listen to the words.
“Here on the 19 of April 1775 was made the first forcible resistance to the British aggression. On the opposite bank stood the American Militia. Here stood the invading army and on this spot the first of the enemy fell in the War of that Revolution which gave Independence to the United States.
In gratitude to God and in the love of Freedom, this monument was erected 1836”
My eyes gazed toward the bridge as I pictured the battle. I imagined the men who stepped forward. “I haven’t a man who’s afraid to go,” Captain Isaac Davis had said of his men who had gathered together to stand against the British soldiers. I brushed my foot against the soil knowing Captain Isaac Davis, along with others, lost their lives on this very ground. Our freedom, our country, was born of this battle.
I stared down at the dusty path and dug my toe into the soil, humbled by the sacrifice of these men. And I wondered,
Am I willing to sacrifice it all for what I believe to be true and right and good?
Will I hold to God’s truth, daring to draw a line in the sand?
And when opposition comes, and it will surely come, will I retreat in fear? Or, by His help, will I steward the one square inch of territory God has given to me?
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Max starting to gallop toward the bridge again. I glanced at the proximity of the other visitors knowing my son can, at times, move from point A to point B in a style similar to a wrecking ball. I lunged for Max’s hand, but when I saw the unbridled joy on his face, I let him go free. He darted over the bridge with his knees bouncing toward his chin. As he reached the other side, much to the surprise of the other more neutral visitors, Max sounded the alarm.
“The British are coming! The British are coming!”
By Emily Colson
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” Abraham KuyperThis entry was posted in Autism, Emily Colson, Joy, Living In The Moment, Living Life Daily and tagged Abraham Kuyper, autism, Emily Colson, Freedom, not alone, special needs parenting on July 3, 2015 by emily.
We bolted into the store so quickly that I thought Max might pull the handle right off the door. He was on a mission, but I had one too. My job was to size up the clerk. I looked across the store and saw a rather serious looking older man wearing a black suit and standing behind the counter. This is not going to go well, I thought. We would do much better in a store like this with a clerk who was…say…on a three hour break in the back room. This called for fast action. I quickly approached the clerk, stretched out my hand and introduced myself as if I were on a job interview. “I’m the one who called you,” I said. “My son Max is interested in the Oreck XL 2000 R-1 vacuum.” (Yes, I speak Oreck.)
I pretended not to notice that Max had already darted toward the line up of vacuums and was flying around the store like a helium balloon caught in a wind tunnel. I flashed my biggest smile trying to maintain eye contact with the clerk. But as I locked eyes with this gentleman I could see, with my highly trained peripheral vision, that Max had now turned one of the vacuums on and was pushing it across the carpet with the level of exertion typically required to push an eighteen-wheeler off a cliff. Gripping the man’s hand tightly, which would make it much more difficult for him to point us to the door, I reminded him, “My son is here to BUY a vacuum…with HIS money.”
Max has always loved working. He loves knowing that he can serve, contribute, and be productive, even if he is only working a few hours a week. Working gives Max a sense of purpose, which is essential to every human being. But only now, as he stood in an Oreck vacuum store, did he understand something else. He could buy stuff.
It’s all thanks to Max’s amazing teacher, Kacey. Before this, Max didn’t understand the value of money. His paychecks were always crumpled up at the bottom of his backpack. So Kacey made a chart to help Max understand how many paychecks he would need in order to purchase his life-long dream – an Oreck vacuum. All he needed was 11 paychecks! Each week Max dutifully collected his paycheck and marked his chart. And each week as he worked at his jobs, the excitement grew – even his employers were cheering for him. All these weeks of working and saving made this moment in the Oreck store a very sweet victory.
I finally let go of the store clerk’s hand realizing that my distraction strategy was going to become obvious. The clerk turned to get a good look at my son, who was now as electrified as the vacuums. Max’s 190 pounds mocked gravity as his feet hovered above the ground. We both watched as Max set the first Oreck back in line, and grabbed another in his arms. He twirled across the floor as if the store were a 1940’s dance hall, and he were the only man in a room of waiting wallflowers.
I didn’t try to stop him; actually, short of divine intervention or the tiniest of sudden tornados, nothing could stop him. I held my breath as the clerk finally began to speak. “I’ve been selling vacuums for forty years,” he said. I gasped in awe, knowing that this man and my son probably had more in common than one might expect. I looked at him and smiled. “Forty years?” I asked. “Have you ever seen anyone as excited about vacuums as Max?” He laughed, and the sharp lines in his face softened.
We spent an hour in the store living out Max’s motto, which in military terms would be, “No dirt left behind.” Customers came in and out, and Max offered them vacuums, and handed out vacuum bags. You would have thought my son had a share in the company.
As the clerk wrote up the purchase, he looked kindly into my eyes and said, “I have a nephew with autism. And there’s another boy who comes in here every few weeks. He has autism too.” I felt the dust-bunnies in my heart clear out a bit. And then he turned to Max and said, “You can come back here any time you want.”
Max clutched his brand new vacuum to his chest and we walked out the door. As we stepped into the bright sunlight, I could see that his hair and shirt were completely soaked with sweat. His faced was glistening and flushed. But it was from more than just the exertion of vacuuming for an hour.
This moment was truly his.
I put my arms around his warm shoulders and squeezed him close. His smile was bigger than the whole outdoors. Max stood on the sidewalk and held his new vacuum up against the brilliant blue sky, and yelled,
“I did it Mom!”
By Emily Colson
This entry was posted in Autism, Emily Colson and tagged autism, autism spectrum, Dancing With Max, Emily Colson, hope, joy, special needs parenting on June 5, 2015 by emily.
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