Emily Colson on Moving from Isolation to Connection

The story behind “Heart by Max” begins during the lockdown days of COVID-19.


John Stonestreet

Kasey Leander

The story behind “Heart by Max” begins during the lockdown days of COVID-19. Recently, Emily Colson joined the Strong Women podcast to describe how God granted Max, a young man with autism who also happens to be the grandson of the late Chuck Colson, a sense of purpose and an amazing ministry during a season that was difficult for him and his mom.  

I think for us I knew right away or very quickly when we went into quarantine that we had been through seasons of quarantine in our lives because most families living with significant disability have been through a season where they can’t go out of the house, they can’t go in the grocery store. … 

And I began to realize, wait a minute, I think we’ve actually done this before, so maybe we have something to share. God comforts us so that we can then comfort others with the comfort He has given to us. … We had a mission that really changed the whole dynamic of this season of struggle and quarantine.  

With encouragement and wise guidance from his mom, Max began to paint. He painted big colorful hearts on yard signs to bless lonely neighbors, first responders, and others. The mission soon became clear. God used this young man with autism to encourage people in his community and beyond. As Emily described, God just began to move. 

There’s a really beautiful story of driving with Max. We were driving along, Max delivering hearts, and Max saw something out the window, and he yelled, “Mom, stop! I want to give them a heart.” And I looked over at this grungy little convenience store, and I thought, “Oh, no, no, no, you can’t. You can’t mean that.” And it’s on a really busy corner. 

And so, I passed it. And then he’s telling me, “Mom, go back, go back.” And I turned around—because these are his hearts, and he gets to decide where his hearts go. And we pulled up, and there is garbage blowing all over the ground. And there are stones and little pieces of construction that have probably been lying there for years. 

Max got out, took a heart, and he brought it over. And right there in the midst of that garbage, and I’m kind of squirming, I’m thinking this spot isn’t worthy of my son’s beautiful heart. This isn’t worthy. And he took that heart, and he planted it right in the middle of the garbage. And he stood back, and he put his hands up, and he said, “Just right.”  

That is what God does with us, right? That’s what God does in this broken, hurting world. He planted His Son right in the brokenness of this world. He plants His beauty in the brokenness of our hearts, the brokenness of our lives, and it changes everything. And He said, “Just right.” And that is that equality of what God does. He plants His image, the beauty of His image in every single life.  

Max and Emily are quite a team—Emily’s love for Max and Max’s boundless energy, authenticity, and love of people image God. While so many run from suffering and struggle, afraid that it drains life of purpose, God uses these things in our life to point us to purpose. As Emily put it,  

I think of a dear friend of mine who cared for three years for her husband with Alzheimer’s. He just passed. And how extraordinarily rich and difficult that season was, how grateful she is that she did that, and was able to do that, other friends who are caring for parents who are in great need, caring for children with significant disabilities, caring for spouses. Those are my heroes, the people who are doing what God calls them to do. Their lives are rich because of it, but the world doesn’t really see it. 

Scripture tells us that God often chooses “what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” This month, you can partner with the Colson Center, Emily, and Max to encourage others and support moms and babies. For a gift of any amount to the Colson Center, you’ll receive a T-shirt with Heart by Max and a onesie with a Heart by Max will be donated to a pregnancy resource center. With each onesie is the message, “I am a child of God, one of a kind, indispensable, unforgettable, dearly loved.” To learn more, go to 

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


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