Alex Bartlett is a graphic design resident with The Austin Stone Community Church.

With a Rust-bucket Redemption


This month you have the option to listen to my update! It's a story from high school that I thought the lessons learned from it were particularly relevant to what's happening in my life this month.

Stay to the end for an exciting announcement!

When I was younger I found myself daydreaming a lot. And right at the cusp of being eligible to get my driver's license, I started dreaming particularly about what car would I own; what beast's engine I would rev up in the mornings and what would get me the most glory and attention for being seen with it. Of course my parents weren't crazy, however, and the sharp pain of reality kindly slapped me across the face and instead of a hot-rod, I ended up with a beatdown 1994 Honda Accord; a car that had been handed down from my cousin to my brother and now on its last life, to me. It had no air conditioning, made sounds at every stop light and sign, and couldn't make it much past 60mph without your mind start thinking through what would go on your last will and testament.

In short, it sucked, but I loved it. It was my first car, right? I now had the ability to go from spot A to spot B independently from anyone else. It's was great! But I wanted the glory ride. I mean think about it, a 16-year-old kid driving a car like Shia Lebouf drove around in a Transformer. I could drive a transformer, people! So I talked to my dad (who is an incredibly talented mechanical engineer) and, amazingly, convinced him to rebuild an old classic car with me.

Now months went by looking for what car would we begin to rebuild and low and behold one day as we drove down Stuebner Airline my dad spotted the future babe-magnet. It was sitting in a dirt lot next to this tiny local repair shop. As we pulled in and I stepped out of the car, I looked up to see my future ride. In front of me was a disgustingly beat up 1971 Oldsmobile Cutlass. There were holes everywhere, in the roof, the trunk, the entire floor was nearly missing, the wiring was chewed through so much that it hand become pillow fluff for a nest of rats, even the originally bright red car was now more of a dark scratchy crimson because of the amount of rust that had taken over. It even had hints of pukey green due to molding that had occurred. The engine "sort of turned over" but that was the only true merit of this seemingly ancient car.

Again, in short, it sucked. But again, I loved it. It was going to be my sweet ride right? Knowing nothing about cars myself and honestly just being really excited to move forward with the process of getting to an awesome car, I said something to the effect of "Yeah this is cool" and we bought it. From there we were off to the races! For the next year or so we literally stripped the car down to the frame and built it all the way back up all the way from new tires and baseboards to a new shiny smooth roof. The process was endless. My dad knew everything it seemed of what to do so day after day when I got off school and he got off work, we would head out to the backyard and get to work on whatever task was at hand that day, just me and him. Eventually, it turned into my dad coming home after working all day and going immediately outside to fix up this car and me coming home after school and laying on the couch, maybe watch a tv show or checking myspace for a few hours. Most of the days I would come out and help but I didn't know how to do anything and honestly wanted to hang out with my friends more so I'd usually leave within a few hours.

And I kind of hated it. Why? Well simple enough, I found out pretty quickly that I wasn't a car person for starters. How the car all fits together and how it works was kind of interesting, but not enough for me to want to sweat and labor over a vehicle for a year. Since that moment I've also discovered how quickly I gave up when it got hard. Now the months I spent with my dad were amazing and invaluable time for me, but that was because of what I learned from him, not because of the car I got at the end. So seemingly forever went by and finally, behold, "my" car was ready. And let me tell you, it was awesome. It was bright yellow, had two wide black racing stripes down the middle of the car, and was stuffed with a healthy 350hp V8 engine that was way too much power for a 16-year-old kid who liked to go fast. It was all the rage. Everybody talked about it everywhere I went. I even got a short segment written about me and my car in the school newspaper. I had the sweet ride I had always dreamed of.

Photo taken by  Cara Leonard

Photo taken by Cara Leonard

But still, somehow, I kind of hated it. Why? Because deep down I think I knew that this car wasn't really mine. You see I had concocted the perfect plan to get the baller transformer car and here I was, driving that car down old Louetta road but in reality my dad rebuilt the car. I just kind of helped. Looped in with the babe-magnet ride was also this un-returnable trophy of my insecurities and guilt.

So I didn't sell it, I drove it for another year and a half or so; sort of loving the attention and praise but also really hating having to always talk about and repair this classic car. Finally, one day I convinced my parents to let me get a more reliable car for college and not soon after the hot-rod class was sold and out of sight forever. I was relieved. I was free from the beast of a car that had caused so much insecurity, stress, and pride. And I learned never to commit to something I didn't really love or desire to do, which was significant for me entering into college.

I tell you that and I think this story came to mind today because right now a similar story is being written; this time though with different ingredients and therefore, in this case, better results. You as a teenager I saw the opportunity to become somebody, popular, liked, you know a guy who's always invited to things, and I saw this old school car as that opportunity to do that and took it, even without realizing that it meant doing something that I didn't really enjoy. As soon as the work got hard, I flaked out! And that choosing to not work hard that year stole something from me. I lost the right and opportunity to be proud of my work and helped literally nobody, not even myself.

Today I'm happy to tell you that my current story is going to end much differently than that one did. Less than one year ago I wanted to learn how I could look more like Jesus and see how my passions and skills as a designer could help me to really impact people's lives in a tangible and life-changing way and thankfully through God's provision I found the Austin Stone Institute's residency program. And after almost a year being here, I can confirm for you that I have cherished every moment and opportunity that I've gotten to be a part of here. I think a lot of that is because, unlike my teenage self who preferred to sit on the couch and give up when the work got hard, I finally have chosen to dive into the tough moments head first. I know now that if I want to accomplish my goals and be able to enjoy the reward, I have to put in the time and effort. And partners, I'm proud of the work and effort that I've put into this year so far as a resident of the Austin Stone. It turns out The Austin Stone has been a fan of that too and I'm excited to tell you now that they've asked me to stay on as a resident for a second and final year. And after literal months of praying and seeking some wise counsel, I've accepted!

And I'm excited! I think the car story came to mind because I think it relates to how I feel now but in different contrast to my experience in high school. Just like in the story the car had to be stripped down to its core and then pieced back together with strong healthy pieces instead of rust infested ones. In the same way, the first half of the residency forced me to come to terms with some pretty harsh realities of how I'm wired. It tore some unhealthy walls down and helped me to replace the faulty pieces of my character with glorifying ones. And just like a working car is able to be used to help not only yourself but other people, I feel prepared to really start actively engaging those around me much more intentionally than I've ever been able to before.

Anyways, you'll hear about a lot about this in more detail in the coming months but know that I have thought and prayed about this decision and feel confident and called by God to stay here for a second year. I think the opportunities he's allowed me to have so far have helped me to see that and understand that there is so much more not only for me to get out of this residency but more importantly much more opportunity to really engage this city so much more than I have before. This year has been so about trying to figure out who am I, how do I work outside of college,  what am I going to be about, what am I going to do, where am I going to invest my time, etc.? It's been a lot of thinking and strategy but far less action than I desired. I think a lot of that was me having to get out so much of my selfishness and my sinful desires that I've had locked into my heart for so long. Not to say I've been healed of all those things but guys I'm just excited to continue to move forward.

For now, please be praying for me to continue to put God's desires for my life above my own! I love you guys, thanks for listening. I hope that you will respond and let me know how you're doing and how I can be praying for you. Be on the look out for a phone call in the upcoming summer months and know that I'm looking forward to sitting down with each of you and talking about what year two will look like.

Alex Bartlett1 Comment