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Proclaiming Human Dignity with Infectious Joy: Heart by Max

Though Chuck Colson championed throughout his ministry the idea that every single human life has value, it was his grandson Max who brought the lesson home.

04/4/23

John Stonestreet

Kasey Leander

I’m often asked, among all of Chuck Colson’s work—Breakpoint commentaries, books, speeches, important statements like the Manhattan Declaration—what I consider to be the most powerful thing he ever wrote. Without hesitation, I always point to the opening and epilogue of Dancing With Max, a book authored by Emily Colson about her son (and Chuck’s grandson) Max.  

In Dancing With Max, Emily tells her story of being a single mom raising a child in an age when autism was far less understood, even by her own father. As a child, Max struggled to make sense of his world and emotions, and his mom struggled to find a school that would accommodate him. Overwhelmed, Emily prayed: “Do you see this, God? I know you’re watching. I know you’re in this, but we’re at a dead end.” 

The book describes how God proved that He did see Max and Emily and how He was with them every step of the way. According to Emily, one of the most important breakthroughs was “picture talks.” Emily learned to communicate with Max by drawing pictures, something that Emily is quite good at. As Emily would put it later, “In all my years of longing to do something more significant with my gift of art, I never dreamed it would be used to give my child his voice.” 

Chuck and Max shared a special bond. As Chuck would relate in his contribution to Dancing With Max, it took a lot for a “Type A,” over-achieving former Marine to get down on his knees and play LEGOs:  

This is a love story. Love is the mark of the Christian, as Francis Schaeffer once wrote, the first Christian virtue. The essence of God himself. Emily and Max have taught me about love in a deeper way than I’ve ever understood before. I have witnessed love that perseveres. I have marveled at how God has poured his grace through them, guiding them through agonizing trials and pain—and then I have witnessed in the end the triumph of love.  

Though Chuck championed throughout his ministry the idea that every single human life has value, it was Max who brought the lesson home. As Chuck wrote,  

Max forces us to raise the most important question of our age: What does it mean to be human? If the geneticists and “science for science’s sake” crowd were to have their way, we would weed out the unfit and create the perfect human race by infanticide, euthanasia, or, eventually, genetic engineering. But what would happen to our humanity?  

In a thousand different ways, the world tells people like Max that they don’t belong, that their lives aren’t valuable, that killing them in the womb is the better option, or even a “right.” They’re wrong. Max images God and is a beautiful and essential reminder of who God is.  

In fact, during the COVID-19 lockdowns, Max began to communicate through art just like his mom. He painted colorful hearts on posters and yard signs that were then placed around his community. Before long, the Heart by Max movement took off to include notecards, art displays, T-shirts, and onesies for newborns with the word “Loved.” His hearts have even reached war-torn Ukraine.  

Though Max may be doing it differently than his grandfather did, he is continuing the work of proclaiming to the world what is true: that every single person bears the image and likeness of God. What Chuck proclaimed with clarity and courage, Max now proclaims with creativity and an infectious joy. 

To be part of this movement that is reminding the world that every single human being is valuable and loved by God, give a gift of any amount to the Colson Center this month. When you do, you’ll receive a T-shirt with one of Max’s hearts, and a Heart by Max onesie will be sent to a pregnancy resource center on your behalf. To give, go to colsoncenter.org/april. 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Kasey Leander. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to colsoncenter.org. 

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