This handsome young man is my cousin. He goes by many names. His given name is David; he goes most often by his middle name, Joshua (usually shortened to Josh); some in our family call him Joshy. But starting on Tuesday night, he gains a new name: Elder Fallin. He will go exclusively by this name for two years as a full-time missionary for the Church.
This is no ordinary title, and this is no ordinary trip Josh is going on. For the next two years, he will be in Salt Lake City, Utah, serving the Lord and teaching His word. His communication with the outside world, so to speak, will be incredibly limited so that he might be more fully focused on the work. He gets to call my Aunt Tauna twice a year, but is otherwise limited to email and letters, and is only allowed to send messages once a week. This might seem harsh, but it’s just part of the deal for missionaries. It’s voluntary. It’s something that those who serve agree to do.
Josh is going to be a fantastic missionary. I don’t doubt that for a second. He gave a farewell talk at church yesterday, and he said something that blew my mind: God is an intellectual being that is in no way naiive or misunderstanding, and yet loves each of us beyond comprehension — beyond what any other human being or animal can offer. In ten short minutes, Josh reminded me why I love God; I can’t even imagine what he’s going to do with two years.
And yet, as proud as I am of Josh, I’ve been genuinely sad about this for a few days. It wasn’t until we all met at the Fallin’s house in VA that I realized how close I was to Josh – and yet how distant I was. Josh is the middle child of three, a twenty-one year old that always seemed older than me but not so old that he was a parent. His older sister, Sammy, has served as incredibly fun and sweet babysitter/older sister for much of my life; his younger brother, Jared, is almost exactly between my sister and I in age – we were close buddies from youth, playing Monkey Ball and Mario Kart on the Gamecube late into the night every time we met.
But sometimes I feel like I passed Josh in the night. In this family, where cousins are as close as siblings, it feels strange. He wasn’t old enough to care for me like Samantha, but he still seemed too old to hang out with me, Sara and Jared. I was intimidated by Josh for most of my childhood. He’s always been incredibly, wickedly smart and well-read, and he’s grown into this tall and muscular man that genuinely competes in strong-man weight-lifting tournaments. On top of that, he seemed to grasp the Gospel in ways that I just couldn’t as a kid.
But he was always there to inspire me and play. I have lots of childhood memories of Josh, when I sit down and collect them. When we first moved into our house in Union Bridge, he taught us how to sled down the hill on plastic toboggans on wet grass. He was the number one “funny cousin” and we literally begged him to goof off for our enjoyment. He’s never too rough and he’s always considerate of Sara and I, despite our age and apparent lack of athleticism. I don’t know how this happened, but I got a wallet-sized copy of his senior picture; it’s been in my sock drawer for years (I promise, that’s not as weird as it sounds).
One of my earliest and most precious memories of any of the cousins involves Josh. I think it was my fifth or sixth birthday when he called me downstairs to the middle floor of our split-level house. He had a present for me: a purple Game Boy Color and his copy of Pokémon Blue. I was overjoyed and I played that game to death – even if I started out on an old save file and, unaware that I had to restart the game, wandered around Mt. Moon fighting zubats for a few hours.
Josh, in a way, is one of the reasons I started to write. The boy might not look like it at first glance, but he’s a huge bookworm. Writers are told to imagine a reader and write specifically to them; Josh, though he doesn’t know it, is my imaginary reader. Unless I can see him reading it, I don’t publish it.
I’ve seen friends and family deployed, which is scary in its own unique way. I’ve had family and friends go out to school, not to return for a few years. I’ve absolutely has friends and family go out on missions – a lot of them, as of late. But this is the first time it’s someone so close to my heart. I’ve learned a lesson from this, a lesson that I’ve learned a hundred times and yet can’t get through my skull: make sure you tell people how much they mean to you. You never know when they’re going to be out of your life – on the other side of the country, or the other side of the world, or, unfortunately, on the other side of Life itself.
Joshy, I love you more than I think I convey. I’m sorry I have to do all of this in writing. Be safe, trust in the Lord, and inspire in the way that only you can. See you in a few years!