Early on in Emily Colson's memoir about raising her son—Dancing with Max: A Mother and Son Who Broke Free (Zondervan)—she writes, "Max is not a burden; he is my greatest gift." This autistic child, who cried most hours of the day as an infant, had long tantrums as a boy, and now has trouble forming words as a young man—surely this child is a burden. But he's not. Max, now 19, is a gift, not only according to his mother but to all of us who are invited into his story.
Colson believes Max "brings out the best and worst in humanity, from the rudest of remarks to the most genuine acts of selflessness. No one remains neutral." For instance, Colson recounts the breakdown of her marriage when Max was only 18 months old. Although the father later formed a strong relationship with his son, it appears that the intensity of Max's early needs wedged the couple apart.
Parallel to this breakdown is Colson's growing relationship with her father, Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship. Charles's words in the prologue and epilogue, in which he writes about a relationship that has taught him humility, joy, and love, serve to bracket his daughter's.
Emily Colson implies throughout that people's reactions to Max depends on their perspective. For instance, when Max is in a public school, one teacher says, "I can't see him writing his whole last name. Are we really going to spend the entire year trying to teach him to write the first letter of his last name?" A few months later, with Max in a new school, Colson approaches the new teacher timidly, saying, "I think he's going to write." The teacher responds, "Well, that's great. Because I know he's going to write."
Members of Colson's community respond to Max, from calling him ...