I was 12 years old when my family moved to England. I had grown up on a different continent so almost everything about my new life seemed different. People drove on the left side of the road (except for my dad, who hadn’t quite made the mental shift and confidently drove our rental car straight into oncoming traffic soon after our arrival!) and rainy British weather was an adjustment. So was the fact that I had to wear a tie and a blazer to school every day.
Speaking of school, I was woefully behind my classmates in a number of subjects. Nowhere was this more obvious than French class. In stark contrast with the rest of eighth grade, I had not been subjected to several years of French language instruction. I had two French words—oui and monsieur—in my arsenal as I strode into my first French class.
Fortunately for me, I had an amazing French teacher. Miss Mitchell was not only superbly gifted in her grasp of French, but she took me under her wing immediately. Soon after my arrival she gave me just the opportunity I needed. She told me that if I came to her after school every Wednesday, she would tutor me in French so that I could catch up to the other students.
At first my progress was embarrassingly modest. Learning a language from scratch was intimidating. But Miss Mitchell stuck by her commitment and I started getting better. My grades began to rise. I grew more confident. Our sessions became fun. I really started to enjoy learning French.
Within the space of about a year and a half I was consistently making top marks in French class. Miss Mitchell’s decision to invest in me had shifted my self-image from a complete French language know-nothing to that of a confident, enthusiastic French learner. This teacher’s faith in me and her willingness to give me the boost I needed transformed me.
As I look back at those school years, I am struck by how fortunate I was to have Miss Mitchell as a teacher—she didn’t have to tutor me after school. But as long as I accepted the invitation to be helped, she made it clear that she would teach me. That help set me on a path that changed my life. I went on to get a degree in French. I’ve used French extensively at work. Speaking the language gave me opportunities I never would have imagined as a 12-year-old meeting Miss Mitchell for this first time. She gave me a gift.
‘A new creation’
On a far grander scale, each of us is offered a gift, an opportunity of literally life-changing potential. The gift is free for the taking. And if we accept it, we start an entirely new chapter in life. The Bible speaks of Christ as offering this gift. 2 Corinthians 5:17 describes anyone who has accepted this gift as a “new creation”. The verse promises that “the old has gone and the new is here!” It’s a promise of a completely fresh slate, a total reinvention.
How does this all work? It’s simple. The apostle Paul said that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As in we humans have all missed the mark in terms of living how we should. The consequences for this are dire. Romans 6:23 says that the “wages of sin is death”.
But the reinvention God is offering is not just for a better life in the here and now, but a promise of eternal life with Him. We don’t deserve this gift, but God says it is ours for the taking: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8).
This is all possible because “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Jesus died on the cross and paid the wages of sin on our behalf so that He could give us eternal life. It was an incredible sacrifice. The greatest gift.
The apostle John famously wrote, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
If you are struggling with guilt from past mistakes, join the club. We’ve all made monumental mess-ups that we really regret. But the great news is that we don’t need to wallow in this guilt. We no longer need to be defined by our past. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” That’s pretty conclusive. God wants to help us chart a new course. He’s got a better future planned for us. He is equipping us for an infinitely better life.
Miss Mitchell gave me a gift that changed my future. She changed the way I thought about myself and taught me a skill that opened countless doors for me. I haven’t seen her in years, but when I do I have a lot of gratitude to express.
And in case you read this article before I get to you, Miss Mitchell, merci beaucoup!
Bjorn Karlman is a freelance writer who travels the world as a “digital nomad,” living in 2–3 countries per year with his wife and toddler.