“Change of Heart is a tragic story of senseless violence, horrific loss, and, in the end, forgiveness that is astonishing. I kept asking myself – ‘As a Christian, could I be as strong and merciful as Jeanne Bishop? ‘I have my doubts.” — John Grisham, bestselling author.
When I saw the name of this book, Change of Heart: Justice, Mercy, and Making Peace with My Sister’s Killer, by Jeanne Bishop, I knew it was something I wanted to read. At that time, I had no idea that the book was actually something that God wanted me to read and was leading to read.
A little background about the book and the story behind the book:
Twenty-five years ago, Jeanne Bishop’s sister Nancy, her brother-in-law Richard, and their unborn child were shot to death in a crime that shocked the suburban community of Winnetka, Illinois. Bishop writes:
“My first response to that tragedy was to seal a stone over my heart, to take a rock in my hand to throw at the perpetrator, guilty as he was. This is the story of how God rolled away that stone, loosened the fingers that gripped that rock, till it thudded in the dirt–and grew in its stead the green shoots of transformation and new life, renewal and change.”
Following her beloved sister’s death, the author quit her job at a prestigious law firm where she did corporate work and switched tracks to become a public defender. After the killer was arrested, she learned that his name was David Biro and that he was a junior in a public high school, the same one her sister attended when she was his age. Biro had a long history of violence and breaking the law. As a minor, Biro was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.
In the spirit of her murdered sister who was such a loving person, Bishop resolves to forgive Biro. She eventually meets with Biro in prison and they begin working toward a reconciliation. She concludes that “God changed my heart? Why not the heart of David Biro?”
When I read this book, I had no expectations. The story is devastating but well written, and while I couldn’t even begin to imagine being in Bishop’s shoes, I was very grateful that I wasn’t. Throughout her journey, Bishop shows God’s love in a very powerful and insightful way. I love the way the Bible verses are woven throughout the story along with showings of Bishop’s faith for the end result of a 20-year walk with forgiveness.
A very strong quote from the book for me is this: Her friend wrote to her once: “That is the point with God: we don’t get all the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed in advance. We’re asked to say yes, knowing the path ahead is clouded in uncertainty – to say yes in faith that God will be with us no matter what.” I say Amen to that.
The other point that hit me hard in this book was when Bishop discusses Matthew 5:39 and how she had her “Aha” moment in understanding it. I was completely with her and it allowed me to have my “aha” moment. I was just faced with a situation where I was led to read Matthew 5:39 and I even prayed about it as best I could at that time. Bishop writes, “[Jesus] wasn’t asking merely that we refrain from striking back. He was asking us to say to the one who opposes us: I know you are angry and in pain. You think that hitting me will make you feel better. It won’t – only God can heal that – but I am here. You can hit me as long as you want, till you get tired. I won’t hit you back or flinch. Hit me on the left cheek; I will give you my right. When you are worn out by your rage, you will stop, and then we can talk. I get it now: you absorb another’s anger and respond with love.”
Funny thing for me lately – my lessons seem to keep coming from the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – my pastor’s sermon referenced it, an album I just reviewed was based upon it, and now in this book, Ms. Bishop references Matthew 5:11 where it reads “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” She explains that doing the work that Jesus calls us to is transgressive; it is drawing outside the lines. It discomforts people and they disapprove. If she is (or we are) truly obedient to Christ’s call to follow him, coming under attack meant she was (or we are) doing something right! It was at the heart of the joy of that journey.
Another powerful paragraph of the book is when Ms. Bishop quotes Hulitt Gloer, a professor, pastor, author, and man of deep faith, who says: “We put God in a box and say, that person is beyond the reach of God’s redemptive power. No one is beyond the reach of God’s power. There is nothing God wants to do more than change the lives of people. Are we not willing to let God do that work in people’s lives? Or are there barriers we set up because we believe that person could never be of value to anybody.”
When addressing the subject of mercy, Ms. Bishop contemplated the depth of Christ’s mercy and stated: “I’d always thought that the only thing big enough to pay for the life of my sister was a life sentence for her killer. Now I understood: the only thing big enough to equal the loss of her life— was for him to be found.”
Near the end of the book, Ms. Bishop shares what she had learned about grace – that it is given, not earned, a function of being loved rather than of worldly accomplishment. Love bears you up. That changes everything.
This book is definitely a “must read” if you have the opportunity to do so. I believe it can help others learn how to act in a more godly and Christ emulating way with their own life experiences in the matter of forgiveness.
Jeanne Bishop is a criminal defense attorney, activist, and author. Since the murders of her family members, she has spoken around the U.S. and the world in support of gun violence prevention, abolition of the death penalty, forgiveness, and the role of victims in the criminal justice system. Her written work has appeared in The Huffington Post, CNN.com, Sojourners.net, The Christian Century, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Chicago Tribune, among other publications. She has been featured in several documentary films, including Too Flawed to Fix, Deadline, and The Innocent. A graduate of Northwestern University School of Law and a recipient of its alumni award for public service, she practices law with the Office of the Cook County (IL) Public Defender.
I received a digital copy of this book through my relationship with NetGalley in exchange for my honest review and unbiased opinion.