Jeanne Bishop's Long Journey to Forgiveness

bishopThis afternoon I went to a luncheon at the First Friday Club to hear a presentation by my friend Jeane Bishop. It was what I needed to hear.

I have heard her speak many times before. I know her story, and we have had many one-on-one conversations. But every time I hear her message, I gain new insight. That is the mark of a truly engaged and engaging speaker.

Jeanne's story is one of horror and tragedy. More than 25 years ago, a juvenile burglar broke into the home of her sister. When he was discovered, he killed Jeane's sister, her sister's husband, and their unborn child.

Her sister was in her mid-twenties. Jeanne was a few years older. The slaying took place on Good Friday, and Jeanne found out about it over the Easter weekend.

The phone call came for her while she was in choir practice.

When Jeanne recounts her story, she does so with dispatch. She makes sure her audience understands the key points of the murders. Without dwelling on the grisly details, she makes sure her audience understands.

From that point of understanding, Jeanne pivots into the real meat of the presentation: the radical nature of forgiveness.

At first, Jeanne wanted nothing to do with her sister's murderer. As she speaks about the quarter century since the crime, however, she makes it clear that she has shifted her position.

In fact, Jeanne is a regular visitor to the prison in Pontiac where her sister's murderer resides. He is currently serving a sentence of Juvenile Life without Parole. In lay terms, this simply means that her sister's murderer went into prison at the age of sixteen, and under current law, he will never be released.

Her visits to the prison are the culmination of a long journey - one she talks about in her recent book, Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister's Killer.

The visits have allowed her a glimpse into the final moments of her sister's life. The glimpse comes from the recollections of the killer, sitting across the glass.

A lot of folks cannot understand how Jeanne could put herself in a position like that. She mentioned that even some members of her own family profoudly disagree with her.

But her willingness to be available and vulnerable allowed her to see that the boy who had killed members of her family had grown into a man who felt profound shame and remorse.

At one point during her talk, she recalled for us the anger and frustration she felt along the way. She said that early on she had washed her hands of the killer - he was sentenced, and she wanted to forget him.

Then a Christian friend pressed her to think about the command to forgive your enemies.

"But he has never felt remorse! He has never apologized!" she recalled saying. "You're asking me to go and forgive him - what would that even look like?"

Her friend answered, "It would look like Jesus, dying on the cross."

Those who killed Jesus were unrepentant, too.

As Jeanne's voice lowered, she recalled the words for us from the Gospels: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

Jeanne looked out at the audience, and as her eyes moved across the room, she asked, "Who do you need to forgive today?"

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