Josh Alton’s Story: How Being Who God Made You to Be Blesses Your Community

Joshua Jason Miggs Alton was a student on the Mid Atlantic District and an active member in all things NYI. Joshua battled Stage IV Metastatic Ewing’s Sarcoma with secondary paraplegia due to the primary tumor on his thoracic spine. Joshua moved in with Jesus on November 29, 2022, at the age of 18 during his senior year of high school after his 16-month battle with cancer.

Joshua was a very social, fun-loving, and energetic kid.  He was diagnosed with high-functioning autism and bi-polar disorder shortly after kindergarten. Joshua struggled much of his life before his cancer diagnosis, but he was super smart and overcame many obstacles to become what he thought was “normal.”  

At the age of 16, just after his sophomore year, Joshua received his cancer diagnosis and, within a week, was paralyzed from the waist down. As he lived in the hospital for eight straight months, he loved on his care team and shared his faith with many doctors and nurses. He welcomed them into family prayer circles and showed everyone that he had a peace that could only come from a relationship with Jesus Christ. 

When he received the news of his first relapse, the Altons decided to return home and live life while undergoing a different type of chemotherapy. As the time came where it was clear that cancer was going to take his life, Josh was filled with a supernatural peace, and he knew without a shadow of a doubt that he would be living with Jesus. He never gave up hope and continued to pray for a miracle, but in his wisdom, he mentioned to his mom, “God told me he was going to heal me, but I don’t think it will be on this side of heaven.” Joshua became a gentle soul who knew no strangers and pointed people to Christ. He was thoughtful, kind, and asked everyone how he could pray for them while going through the toughest journey of his life. His longing for the things of this world grew “strangely dim,” and his eyes and heart became fixed on Jesus.

Through every stage of this incredibly difficult journey, hearers and readers of this story see a myriad of ways to bless their community that you might not expect. Whether a first-year teacher having an extra measure of grace and patience with a struggling child; a mom trying to support her child with severe anxiety; a youth leader or mentor having the big, hard conversations teens long to have but aren’t always comfortable sharing with their parent; or a teenager with a fatal cancer diagnosis praying for others and sharing the gospel every chance he gets—we can see that this young man’s life was full of blessing.

You can be in ANY situation, in ANY state of mental or physical health, of ANY age, and immensely bless those around you. Read more about this impactful story from Joshua’s mom, Tara, in a shortened interview below.

NYI Connect: Tell us a little bit more about Josh’s early childhood.

Tara: When Josh was really young and in daycare—probably between the ages of two and three—I started noticing some different things about him. I mean, he was the most social, smiley, friendly little boy you could ever meet, and then, suddenly, if something didn’t go his way, it would almost seem like a switch would flip and he would become someone I just couldn’t control.

We’ve learned so much since then, but one thing they said to me at the time was, “He is too social to be diagnosed with autism.” And, honestly, that made me feel like my son was just a bad kid, and I was a little bit defeated by that.

Fast forward to kindergarten, though, and his teacher was incredible. I found out it was her first year teaching, and I thought at our first parent-teacher meeting I was just going to get a laundry list of all the things he was doing wrong, and that isn’t what I got. She very constructively helped me work through all of these funny habits Josh developed, and she worked with him throughout the whole year. It was a pivotal time for him because she and the vice principal of that school really helped us communicate with the doctors and narrow down what was happening with Josh and get a good evaluation.

We started him on medication for his anxiety and some of the things that can come with autism like raging and things like that. And, I mean, it was like he was a totally different kid—like he was becoming the kid he was supposed to be. He still had his quirks, you know; anybody does, whether they have autism or not. His were just a little more pronounced. But it was that time that we finally got the help that he needed.

But it was a process. Even up until the day he took his last breath, there were still some struggles we had to work through to try to implement new ways of handling his different anxieties. He worked so hard his whole life to be normal. And I would just say to him, “Buddy, you’re you. You are uniquely who God made you to be. There’s no such thing as normal.” But he had this this idea that he had to be like everybody else, and I told him, “No, you don’t; you need to be Josh.”

NYI Connect: Anxiety is something that a huge number of young people are dealing with right now. How did you encourage Josh and walk with him through that as well as other youth that you’ve come in contact with—his friends, your daughter, and other kids in your youth group?

Tara: The thing that I would use with Josh and that I would say it to anybody is that you have to take it in little bite-sized pieces. If you’re ever feeling a little bit overanxious, you simply need to ask Jesus to help you. Whether it was in his head or out loud, Joshua would just say, “Jesus, help.” And after a while, he realized God was helping him in those situations.

You can say it every single time you feel an ounce of anxiety, and God is going to be right there with you. That was one of the things I always tried to remind him, that you’re never alone. You’re never alone because God is always sitting right there. Picture Jesus sitting in the seat next to you. I think realizing this helped him to grow.

NYI Connect: Speaking of that growth, you’ve mentioned that you saw Joshua go from fear and intense anxiety at the beginning of his diagnosis to a strong, captivating faith in the last months of his life. Would you speak a little bit more about the way that the Lord grew Joshua in his faith?

Tara: From the very beginning of his cancer diagnosis, I was like, “You know what, we have no other option but to lean on God at this point.” It was the obvious thing for our family. I think in those situations, it’s really easy to be angry at God and ask, “Why did you do this to me? Why did you do this to our family?” And instead of doing that, we just leaned into him.

The first thing we did was pray. I called on my people on the district and elsewhere and said we needed prayer. Every day, I just wanted Joshua to know that God was going to get us through this, no matter how it ended. We were going to take it day by day because God doesn’t want us to worry about tomorrow. “Today” was going to be tough enough.

But after about a month of living in the hospital, I had this conversation with a couple of nurses. They said when somebody gets newly diagnosed, they do start to lean into faith, but sometimes, as things get more difficult, you see a change in the family as they become angry and burdened and so tired. And things did get more difficult. I mean, if something could have happened to Joshua, it did. If there was a complication that could happen, it always happened. And one of those nurses said to me, “You guys aren’t like that. You get up in the morning, you get dressed—you and Joshua are always up and ready to greet us in the morning and make us feel like this is a place where we can be safe, where we can come into your room and feel like home.”

For us, too, it was an incredible journey because of the nature of how Children’s National became home. It’s not the hospital that feels like home, but it’s the people that work on that floor that feel like home to me. And they watched Joshua grow in his faith.

One of the very first things Josh said to me was, “Mom, I don’t want to die.” But we prayed, found a worship song that grounded us throughout the whole thing, and we just waited on the Lord each and every day. And as the months went by, Joshua started to realize he needed to dig a little deeper and had questions he didn’t know how to handle.

One of our friends, Stephen—another pastor on the district—was super close with Josh and was his very first camp counselor. They started to meet on a regular basis. Stephen brought Josh a Bible with verses highlighted that he thought would be important, and I watched as Joshua started to dig into scripture more and pray on his own. And then this remarkable thing happened.

You know, it’s hard for teenagers to share Jesus with others. But Joshua started telling his whole life story and sharing the life of Jesus with his nurses every single day whether they wanted to hear it or not. They all loved him so much. They just patiently listened to him, and he would share his love for Jesus with whoever came into his room. He connected with people in a way that made them feel safe.

We have countless stories from people during those eight months of being in the hospital who never used to pray before and now pray every single day. There were some older ladies who still worked at the hospital that would come in and have a little prayer time, talking about God and how good he is, and Josh connected with these women in their seventies—it was like he was part of this little old lady prayer group! It’s incredible that such a young life and someone like Josh could have such an impact on people’s lives.

I just want people to know that you’re never too young to make a crazy impact. It was amazing how he wasn’t afraid to share like he was before.

Remember that I told you, when he was younger, that I would see a switch flip and he would become suddenly aggressive—I liken it to the little baby in The Incredibles that goes crazy when his superpowers kick in. But this was different. Joshua had always been very loud, very fun—he was the life of the party. But around the end of September, he had another relapse. We knew he wasn’t going to have a lot of time left, maybe a couple of months. And Joshua went from being this crazy, loud, excited teenager to this calm, gentle, God-loving, God-fearing young man who talked to people as if he had been preaching the word for forty years.

He started to keep a journal and would write down everybody’s prayer requests. Here’s a kid who’s been told he probably has two months to live, and he’s praying for what God wants from him and praying for and with these people who love him and want to pray for him—and he just wants to know how he can bring their needs and concerns to God.

Whenever I tell this story to people, I tell them he became the man of God he was meant to be in those moments. Anybody who knew Joshua well saw he was still very much Joshua, but it was almost as if he’d had had years of growth in a week’s time. Suddenly, God was fully apparent in his life.

I had always wondered if Josh was going to know God the way that we all should know him. The answer is yes, but it couldn’t be me. I couldn’t do that for him. It had to be him, and he had to be willing to allow God to work through him. I felt like there was always going to be some prevenient grace there for Josh because, you know, God is good, and he works in those situations. But I also know that anxiety of a parent wondering if your child is going to make it to heaven. Most parents will never know in this life because, God willing, their children are going to live far past them. But what a gift it was to watch my son literally be ushered into heaven in those moments at the end of his life. As much as I miss my son, at least I know without a shadow of a doubt that he’s with Jesus. I know that he is healed and he’s running and he’s walking and he’s not anxious. To have that confidence, I can look on it as a blessing and that God is still working in my life because of Joshua.

Time after time, I hear the same story from people who were impacted by Josh—my mentors who feel like they were changed and mentored by the same kid who used to drive them crazy. What a testimony to see such a young man and someone like Josh and know that, maybe you don’t have it all figured out, and maybe this seems like the hardest time of your life, but you can still seek God and you can still be at peace with whatever the plan is going to be.

Even if you don’t know what that means, even if you don’t know where that’s going to end or where that’s going to lead you, just allow God to give you the peace that can only come from him. Joshua lived the life that God planned for him; his life and his impact aren’t over just because he’s in heaven with Jesus.