FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Living Bravely

with Chuck Colson, Emily Colson | December 1, 2010
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It's not adversity that defines you, but how you handle it that matters. Chuck Colson and his daughter, Emily, talk about the beautiful things Max, Emily's autistic son, has taught them about life and love.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • It's not adversity that defines you, but how you handle it that matters. Chuck Colson and his daughter, Emily, talk about the beautiful things Max, Emily's autistic son, has taught them about life and love.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

It’s not adversity that defines you, but how you handle it that matters.

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Living Bravely

With Chuck Colson, Emily Colson
December 01, 2010
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Bob:  As the single parent of an autistic son, there came a point where Emily Colson dropped out of church.  It just didn’t work for Max and her to attend.  He was too disruptive.  Emily says her situation is not uncommon for parents of special needs children.

Emily:  I think people don’t realize how many families are missing from church because we can’t get across the threshold to show that we even have needs and that we would like to be there.  We’re just invisible. 

I made this decision that we had to go back to church.  The wonderful thing is what I’ve seen in our church, and I’ve seen it over and over are churches need Maxes.  He brings out love and compassion and the most beautiful qualities.  He teaches us about selfless love.  We need that.

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 1st.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll hear today the story of a life and an enduring legacy being left by a now almost twenty year old autistic young man named Max. 

Welcome to FamilyLife Today; thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  We’re hearing a story this week that reminds us that there are often twists and turns in the road of life that leads you onto a bumpy path.  As I was thinking about that, Dennis, I was thinking, honestly, over the last couple of years for us as a ministry the path has been a little bumpier than we had experienced in the thirty-five years that you’ve been a part of FamilyLife.

Dennis:  Right.  In fact, I was thinking the same thing as you were talking about the bumpy path.  I was going, “Seems like some of these bumps have been a little deeper than others.”  Financially, it has been a real challenge in the last couple of years, but the ministry continues to be extremely strong.  In fact, we’ve got plans for the 2011that I’m really excited about—in fact, more excited perhaps than ever before in our ministry.

Bob:  We’ve had some good news in recent days as well.  We’ve had some friends in the ministry who have stepped forward.  They have put together a matching gift challenge, and the fund is up to a little more than two million dollars at this point.  So, the way that this works that every time we receive a donation in December, they will match the donation we receive with a donation out of the fund.

You send a donation of $50 or call 1-800-FL-Today and make a $100 donation; they’ll release a $100 or $50 dollars out of the matching fund.  We are hoping to take full advantage of this now more than two million dollar matching gift fund, and that is going to be a stretch.

Dennis:  If you’ve benefitted from the ministry of FamilyLife Today in your life, your marriage, your family, maybe your grandparent, would you help us?  Right now.  I don’t mean later on in the month; I mean today.  Pick up a phone, call 1-800-FL-Today, or go online to 

I have to tell you in all my years of ministry this maybe one of the most important months we’ve ever faced.  It is why I am coming to you at the beginning of the broadcast and simply asking, “Would you help us?”  I need your help.  This would be a timely gift to make to FamilyLife Today.

Bob:  Again, you can make your donation at, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and make your donation over the phone.  We are grateful for whatever you are able to do.

Dennis:  We are.

Bob:  Here in the month of December.  We want to dive back into the story that we have been hearing about this week.   It is really a story of a family that has found themselves on one of these bumpy roads we’ve talked about.  You know, we are all going to experience bumpy roads in life.  The question is not “How do you avoid the road?”  The question is “Are you ready to face the bumps when that’s the path God has you on?”

Dennis:  We’ve got a guest here that probably knows a little bit about that.  Want you to comment on this, Chuck.  Then, I want you to introduce the featured guest on the broadcast because you’re really not it today.  I’m sorry to tell you.  This is a voice many of you are going to recognize.  The Founder of Prison Fellowship, father of three, and just a great Christian leader, and Christian statesman Chuck Colson.

Chuck:  Well, suffering goes with the Christian life.  Everybody wants Romans 8:28, “God works through all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes for the good of all those people.”  We never read 8:29.  8:29, “Because we are predestined in the beginning to be conformed to the likeness of His son.” 

How will you conform to the likeness of one who has suffered on the cross?  You will suffer.  You will suffer as a Christian.  Don’t get a rosy idea about Christianity being an easy life; it is a tough life. 

The guest that I wanted to introduce today has seen the best and the toughest of life.  This is a beautiful woman actually.  Billy Graham when I first got a ministry said, “Never travel alone with a beautiful woman.”  Well, I’ve come to Little Rock travelling alone with a beautiful woman.  A woman—

Dennis:  Who is by the way beaming right now as you say this.

Chuck:  Who is my daughter.  She is more beautiful on the inside than she is on the outside.  This woman has proven herself with a toughness inside that is really proven her metal and character.  She has faced adversity.  As I told her once, “It isn’t the adversity that will define you; it is the way in which you react to it.” 

She has suffered adversity and developed her character in the process.  God has used that adversity for great blessings.  She’s one of the handful of people who has most inspired me in my life.  So, I am thrilled to be able to introduce my daughter, Emily Colson.


Emily:  Thank you, Dad.  It is such a pleasure to be here; and I love you too, Dad. 

Bob:  “One of the handful of people who has most inspired me in my life.”

Chuck:  Yes.  That is true.

Emily:  That is quite an honor.  My dad has been a tremendous role model and inspiration in my life in those tough years of wondering how God could possibly do anything good with my life.  We were at such a pit.  I would think about my dad and what God has done in his life when he was in a pit and how God has used that time in my dad’s life, his lowest times of Watergate to reach so many people and inspire them.  That has been a tremendous motivator for me.

Bob:  Emily, we have talked a little bit earlier this week about your relationship with your dad.  I’m just curious: what is the biggest difference between the pre-Watergate Dad who you grew up with and the post-prison Dad who you have a relationship with now?  What stands out—I’m wondering if it is his language or if—

Emily:  I’m not sure if I could give you one defining thing.  I think it goes into all aspects of my dad’s life into our relationship together.  There is a softness, a gentleness that didn’t exist there before between us.  There is an availability.  There is this easy presence in being with my dad.  I love to be with my dad.  It is the nicest place I could possibly be wherever we are together.

Dennis:  We are glad you came here.  I know part of why Chuck so admires her.  He has read Emily’s book Dancing with Max twenty times.

Bob:  He had a little bit to do with writing—

Dennis:  He did.

Bob:  A part of this himself.

Dennis:  He did.  Emily, this story is about your life as a single parent with Max, a young man who has autism and the struggles and the loneliness and the challenges of going through that with him by yourself.  There was a moment when you actually ended up giving up.  You came to the end of yourself.  Max was about nine years of age.  You know the story I’m talking about?

Emily:  I sure do.  I sure do.  Max was nine, and we were at that point essentially hostages of autism.  We could barely get out of the house without tantrums; so, it was easier just to stay home and stop trying.  It was a really difficult time.  I was at that point a single mother and had gone through this painful divorce.  I was battling the school systems trying to get help for Max and not sleeping at all.  It was so tough.

It got to the point that one night in the middle of the night I went in and decided I would just clean and that would make me feel better.  It would relax me.  I opened up a closet door; the shelf broke, and all the bottles spilled out onto the floor.  That just finished me.  I took that door, and I swung it so hard that I ended up putting a hole right through the wall.  That was a little bit of a wakeup call for me.

I realized that I had to do something different.  I didn’t know how we were going to keep going, but I knew I wasn’t going to quit.  I didn’t imagine that there was any possible way I could do this for the rest of my life.  I could even do it for another week.  I thought maybe what I can do is one more day.  If I can do one day, I’m going to live that day big and brave and bold. 

For some of us, living brave is not swimming with sharks and sky diving.  For some of us, it is just getting up in the morning and living in the way you hope that you might be able to live.  So, I woke up the next morning; and I said, “This is my last day alive.  What am I going to do with it?”  It changed everything.

I thought, “Am I going to care if people stare at us when Max has a tantrum?  Am I going to care if the day doesn’t go well?  Or am I going to find the joy because it is one day?”  We’ve been living that way for just about ten years now, and it has been life changing.  Truthfully, I take Max places.  We do things.  We do not let our circumstances define our lives.  It is a constant battle to do this.   It is not an easy thing.

Chuck:  When you read in the book, the various adventures she’s started out on with Max.  Some of them turned into these hysterically funny situations.  Some of them went very sour.  Some of them became great triumphs where Max was the bridge builder that Emily said he would be.

Bob:  There was a story you told about going into a mini mart with Max and his fascination with refrigerators. 

Emily:  That is such a great story!  Max loves appliances.  He loves refrigerators and vacuums.  I think mechanical things are just more predictable than people; so Max loves those things.  When he goes into a mini mart, he gets so excited.  He jumps up and down.  He is truly the joy boy, but not everybody appreciates that. 

There was a clerk in this particular store that was being unkind to Max, really did not want him there.  There was a customer up at the counter watching the whole thing about to buy a candy bar.  Finally, we looked at Max and said, “I think it is time to find another store.”  Well, the customer that was up at that counter was watching the whole episode with Max and watching the way that the clerk was behaving. 

Pushed the candy bar back, put her money back in her pocket, and said, “I think I will find another store too.”  Walked over beside my son.  As they are walking out—Max loves to repeat lines.  I don’t’ think he always knows what they mean; but as they are going through the door, he poked his head back in the store.  He said, “You could learn from me.”  The customer said, “You’re right. We can learn from you.”  It was just beautiful.

Dennis:  There are also those tender moments, too, not just the funny ones or the dramatically difficult ones.  There are also the tender moments.  Remember the story you tell of Max and the little girls?

Emily:  I sure do.  When Max was two, he didn’t have any language at all.  You would not have thought that he was even understanding language.  He was like a human super ball, just bouncing around all the time. 

We were in Florida.  My dad and Patty were delivering Angel Tree gifts to a family nearby.  We went along; and I thought, “If we need to, we’ll just wait outside.”  Usually it didn’t work well if Max went into a new environment.  The whole way there Max is sucking on his fingers and looking out the window.  As I now know, memorizing every street sign.  He would later recite to me. 

We were telling him that this is a family that needs love.  They have a parent that is in prison.  We’re going to show them love.  We got there, and I am holding Max as we walked into this little house.  He’s wiggling suddenly in my arms trying to get down. 

He ran over to this little girl who is sitting in an overstuffed chair and leaned into her.  Then, he tottled over to another little girl who was sitting on the floor and put his face right up against hers until the two of them melted into one. 

I looked at my dad.  He looked at me.  We were so stunned.  Max never left my side.  He was glued to my hip constantly, and he showed that family love in a greater way than we ever could have.

Chuck:  The amazing thing was as we drove out in my car.  We were talking about how these kids need to be loved.  Their parent is in prison.  I didn’t think Max was taking any of this in because I looked back in the back seat.  He is looking out the window.  The first thing he did was go over and show love to those kids.  You could see how the kids responded.  All of us stood in the room, it was startling.  Then, he came right over and sat next to Emily and sat there for the rest of the time.

Dennis:  How does church work for you?  How do you make that happen?  And how has Max done there?

Emily:  We’ve had our challenges with church.  We really have a victorious story; but when Max was young, it worked.  We could go to church.  I would stay with him in the little classrooms.  He would bounce on my knee to the music.  He loved to go.  He’d run around at the coffee hour. 

Once he hit that eight year old, nine year old stage, church became like everything else in our lives.  We just couldn’t do it.  He was too loud.  There wasn’t a classroom that really worked for him.  He certainly couldn’t sit through the service with me.  So, we stayed home.  We were home from church for about five years. 

I think people don’t realize how many families are missing from church because we can’t get across the threshold to show that we even have needs and that we’d like to be there.  We are just invisible. 

So, when we made this decision, I made this decision that we would live each day big and bold.  One of those decisions is that we had to go back to church.  So, when Max was about thirteen years old, we did something very brave.  We are going to take Max to the one thing he always loved about church.  He loved it to be over.  We are going when church is over. 


We showed up at the coffee hour.  Immediately someone said to Max, “Could you help stack up these chairs?”  All it took was that one man stepping forward and including Max, and he started stacking chairs.  By the end of that time, by the end of that first day, that man invited Max to be part of what they call “The Grunt Crew.”  That is the cleanup crew at our church. 

I can’t tell you how proud Max was to be personally invited to be included.  It really wasn’t that extraordinary for someone to do.  All it takes is for one person to step forward and say, “We need you” to really change a child’s life.  So, for six years, we have gone to the grunt crew.  We go after church.  We go after the service.  There is no one in that church that serves with more joy than Max.  He may not be in the service, but he is serving with tremendous joy.

He stands in the middle of the church when the men are stacking up all the chairs.  He throws his fist up in the air, and he will yell, “Now that is team work!”  His joy just spreads around. 


It is so great.  Then—

Dennis:  He got a promotion.

Emily:  He got a promotion.  I really thought, “Max is ready for something new.”  About a month ago, we didn’t show up on time for church because that is really not our style.  We showed up early for church.  Max started a new job as a greeter. 

I’m going to tell you if there is anybody in a church that knows how precious the privilege of being in a church, it is Max.  He has fought so long and so hard to be there.  You want to be greeted by Max because you don’t just get a hand shake.  He jumps up and down.  He is so excited that you are there.  That is the way we all should come into church.

Chuck:  I love the pictures that Emily sent me.  He is wearing a blazer which he bought at some second hand store for five dollars.  He really looks pretty good in it.  He is standing there with his hand out.  He’s just helping people into the church with this big smile on his face.  Now, we’ve gone from being frightened of the church to being part of the church.  It is just wonderful to see that happen.

Bob:  Emily, he came to you and initiated the idea that he wanted to be baptized, right?

Emily:  It was so great because we were at my dad’s church in Florida.  There is a big lobby, and we were sitting outside in that lobby watching the service on television.  Max saw a woman being baptized.  He got very curious asking me, “What is that?  What does that mean?”  Then, he said, “I want to be baptized in grandpa’s pool.”  Of course, I’m looking at him thinking, “What?  Oh my goodness!” 

Just then my dad walked out to check on us.  I told him, and we’re both so excited.  Then, we got a little bit nervous.  We started asking him questions.  For about three days the interrogation went on.  Max knew every answer to everything we ever asked him.  Now nobody did that to me; nobody interrogated me like that.  We wanted to make sure that Max understood what it actually was.  We finally realized that we’re making this too hard.  Max wants to be baptized.

So, my dad and maybe he’ll tell you was ordained for a day and baptized Max in the pool.  It would have been too difficult for him to go into the church to be baptized.  That was one of the most beautiful moments.  It wasn’t about any report that stamped him insufficient what anyone’s judgment on him was.  It was about what he can do.  He can give his life to Christ, and he did.

Chuck:  I’m a Southern Baptist in which denomination we believe that lay people can baptize.  I don’t like that.  I like the clergy to do it because I like it to be representation of the church that that person is coming into.  So, I called my pastor, and I said, “If you came over, he would kind of freak out if you got in the pool with him.  How about ordaining me for a day?  My conscious will be clear.” 

Dennis:  I’ve never heard of an ordination for a day.


If anyone qualifies, Chuck Colson does.

Chuck:  Ordained for a day.  I took Max into the pool.  As I recited the baptismal confession, I looked into his face.  There was such joy and understanding.  Into the water and coming up, this radiant look on his face. 

Emily got a picture of that day and also drew a diagram—remember she talked to her earlier about picture talks, the way that she is able to explain things to Max.  She took him through the pictures.  Max loves Jesus.  Max wants to show his love for Jesus.  She walks right through like a cartoon strip what a baptism meant.  Then, she said, “Max is baptized.  He is coming up out of the water.  Max loves Jesus.”  It is just wonderful. 

That is hanging—I have an eagle wall at home.  I’m sorry to confess it with presidents and kings and all kinds of famous people that I’ve know in my life.  In the center of that eagle wall is that drawing of Max’s baptism and the picture of my putting his head down into the water.  It is one of the most precious things of my life.

Dennis:  I just appreciate you Emily in letting us peer into what I would call the Holy of Holies.  Your dad described you earlier as a hero.  Even though, you don’t describe yourself like that.  You are just doing your duty, but that is what heroes do.  One day at a time they do their duty. 

You have a great gift in writing.  I predict this book is going to minister to a lot of people.  I think be used this Christmas to remind people of the importance of the Maxes of this world and how they really do need to dance with them and enjoy life together.  Thanks for being on the broadcast.  Chuck, thanks for coming with her.

Chuck:  Dennis and Bob, thank you.  You guys do a wonderful job.  This has been a great time for us.  Thank you.

Emily:  Very precious.  Thank you very much.

Bob:  Let me encourage our listeners to do what Dennis was saying.  Go to our website and request a copy of the book Dancing with Max which we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.  Again, go online at  Let me just say if you know somebody and their family has a special needs child or an autistic child, get a copy of this book and give it to them as a gift this year at Christmas time. 

Again, the website or you can call 1-800-FL-Today to request a copy.  It is 1-800-358-6329: 1-800, F as in “Family,” L as in “Life,” and then the word today. 

Speaking of books, a couple of years ago Barbara Rainey did an extended meditation on John 3:16, probably the best known verse in all of Scripture.  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that who so ever believes in him should not perish; but have every lasting life.” 

Barbara took that verse and through a series of watercolor illustrations and devotional meditations she wrote a book When Christmas Came.  We would like to make that book available for you and your family this year as a Christmas gift. 

All you have to do to request it is go online at or call us toll free at 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask for a copy.  Again, the book is called When Christmas Came.  It is by Barbara Rainey.  The book is our gift to you.  Just call to request it at 1-800-FL-TODAY or go online at

If you are new to FamilyLife, not familiar with what the ministry is all about, here is a way to get acquainted and find out a little bit more about the ministry.  We would love to hear from you.  Love to know you are listening.  So, ask for a copy of the book When Christmas Came by Barbara Rainey when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY or when you request it online at

We hope that you can be back with us tomorrow.  We are going to talk about faith and fear and about how you can learn to respond to your fears with faith.  Grace Fox is going to join us.  I hope that you can be back with us as well.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas. 

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