For over a year and a half, our team talked and planned and wrestled with myriad details that finally culminated in the ONE conference that took place simultaneously in three locations this past Saturday — Temecula and Ripon, California, and Glendale, Arizona. On Saturday morning, we worshiped in our separate locations, then spent the next two and a half hours connected by a string of 1’s and 0’s that we call the Internet.
Together we were treated to reflections from Emily Colson, author of Dancing with Max, who was live in Temecula. She told stories of raising a son with autism, as well as helpful and hurtful responses of people they met along the journey. Emily told some great stories. Here are abridged versions of three of them.
“The Holy Spirit speaks Max’s language.” Though Emily is a committed Christian and values participation in worship, she and Max didn’t attend worship at all for about five years. As Max grew older, worship became a frightening experience for him, and eventually they stopped going altogether. But Emily kept in touch with her pastor. During one conversation with him, she expressed her concern about Max’s faith. The pastor reassured her, “Emily, the Holy Spirit speaks Max’s language.”
That comment got me thinking about my mom. She had dementia the last 12 years of her life. As I think about Colson’s story, it strikes me that even though mom’s memories, including memories of God, disappeared over time, the Holy Spirit continued to speak her language. Though she forgot God, God never forgot her nor stopped speaking to her in a language she could understand.
“I got baptized.” Before Max and Emily stopped attending worship, they sat in the foyer and watched what was happening on a monitor. One Sunday, Max pointed to the monitor as a young person was being dunked under the water in the baptismal pool, and proclaimed that he wanted to be baptized too. Sometime later, Emily’s father, Chuck Colson, baptized Max in his backyard pool. For a long time after that, every time Max was in a pool or lake, he would reenact his baptism for himself. He would say the words that his grandfather said, “Max, I baptize you into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Then he would dunk himself in the water, and come up shouting, “I got baptized.” After telling this story, Emily quipped, “Do you want to start a revival? Take Max to a water park!” Though she was joking, I wonder what how our identity in Christ would be different if every one of us Christians were so passionate about our own baptisms.
“Grunt Crew.” When Max and Emily finally tried going to church after their time away, they did what Emily calls “backwards church.” They came at the end of the worship service, because not only could Max tolerate church at that point, but also he appreciated the fellowship and informality after the worship service was over. One Sunday, Max started helping the people on the Grunt Crew stack the chairs that were used during worship. One of the volunteers invited Max to join the Grunt Crew. Max heartily agreed, and he and Emily made sure, every Sunday, to be at church in time for Max to stack chairs. Emily said, “It took that man just two minutes to invite Max to help. That two minutes changed our lives, because someone told Max that he was needed in church.”
Do the people with disabilities in your church know that God speaks their language, that God has touched them, that they are needed?