I’m not a fan of Chuck Colson. I don’t have anything against the man, but he’s not one of my favorite people.
But recently a trusted friend told me I needed to read “Dancing with Max” by his daughter, Emily with the prologue and epilogue written by Chuck. I followed her advice and got to reading.
I couldn’t put it down. Fortunately Brandon and I were on vacation this weekend, so I had the luxury to read the book straight in a day!
“Dancing with Max” is the story of Emily’s (Chuck Colson’s daughter) journey as the single mother of Max, her Autistic Son.
I was struck by Emily’s writing. She told the story of her journey with Max with humor, compassion, full candor and incredible grace. Her story in truly compelling and I would suggest that everyone read this book. Especially if you have a special needs child in your life or, honestly, if you dont!
The one scene that has been re-playing over and over in my mind is the retelling of Max’s baptism, baptized by his grandfather, Chuck. Max stated his desire to be baptized as a 13 year old boy on a visit to his grandparents, Chuck & Patty Colson, in Florida.
Max could not express faith in a way that most children did. And nobody wanted to baptize him wrongfully so Chuck and Emily questioned him and questioned him. But eventually they realized they were making this too difficult. They had to allow Max to come to faith, as Max would come to faith. So, convinced of Max’s step of faith, they moved forward. Understanding that Max would never be able to go up to the front of the church to participate, and that it would be nerve wracking for a stranger (i.e. Chuck’s pastor) to baptize him, Chuck became ordained for the day so that he could personally baptize Max. And they proceeded with the baptism in a pool with Emily and her stepmom Patty watching. And after going over all the rules with Max (no jumping, keep your swimsuit on, etc) Emily writes,
Max knew it was different. When the time came, my son walked slowly into the water holding his grandfather’s hand and calmly turned to face him. My dad reached his arm around Max, who immediately held his nose, just as he had seen the woman do at church. Max was round and soft at thirteen, and still baby-faced. As my dad spoke I breathed in this moment so still and deep; an unbroken circle of faith passed between generations. My dad, who has deeply influenced my own journey of faith, baptized my son. There were no crowds to applaud when it was over or music to play inthe sanctuary. It was just Grandma Happy and me cheering from the side of the pool.
And then Emily writes,
I’ll admit that I looked up at the sky expecting to see the iridescent shimmer of an angel’s wing, visual confirmation of this beautiful event, an ethereal high-five. I didn’t see anything until I looked back down at the swirling water that surrounded my won, who was no leaping and shouting, “I got baptized!” In that glistening water I saw every report that stamped Max insufficient, every rejection he has endured, every label the world had stuck to Max’s broken places. It all washed away.
Even rehearsing this over now is moving. As someone who has the privilege of helping to Shepherd children towards faith in Christ, this story is moving. As someone who has had the privilege of knowing several special needs children this story bring me to tears. You see one of the things I have become convinced of is that children hardly meet our expectations when it comes to matters of faith. That is to say, they do not follow a calculated formula. This can make our job difficult… because what are we to expect? But I find that mostly it makes our job fun. You see I cannot force a decision in the life of a child, and there are many decisions I might not even be aware of. But that’s okay. That’s not my job. Instead I am to shepherd them as they come, responding to the Holy Spirit’s leading in my own heart, just as they do the same.
And I have to be prepared for it to look different. Every child, even those without special needs, will not come to faith in the same manner. And that’s okay.
On a side-note, I want to make sure that everyone understand that I am not advocating that children do not need to make a decision for Christ. I most certainly believe that they do need to come to that place of faith. However, I believe we have to expect that no child will fit a mold and we have to always look to the Holy Spirit to guide us, even as he guides the children in our midst. If we try to proceed forward in matters of faith with a firm formula in our mind, we will do a dis-service to those around us.
It’s a journey.
Now one word about Chuck Colson. As I said in my opening sentence, I am not a Chuck Colson fan. That is not to say that I do not recognize or appreciate the work of Christ in Chuck’s life and the way he has been used to impact those around him. I do believe that God has used Chuck Colson to impact others for the better. However, I have also witnessed certain things coming from Chuck that were damaging or injured those around him.
However, I have found new admiration for the man in his story of Max. Chuck wrote the prologue and epilogue of the book, and in his tale we see the work of the spirit in his own life through Max. It is incredibly moving to see a “tough man” moved by a young, Autistic boy. And Chuck makes it very clear that Max has changed his life.
Read the book!