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Grace That Makes People Flinch

Seven-year-old Kathleen Edward is dying from Huntington’s Disease, the same disease that killed her mother, Laura, at age 24.

Unfortunately for Kathleen, though, her coming death wasn’t enough to end a long-standing feud that a neighbor couple had with her now-deceased mother.

(The feud apparently started when Laura Edward failed to return a text message about a children’s birthday party in a timely manner.)

Nothing unusual there, right? We all occasionally feel slighted by others’ behaviors, yes?

These neighbors, though, took their grudge to some disgusting extremes. After Laura Edward’s death, for example, the neighbor wife posted doctored photos of the dying 7-year-old on her Facebook page. One picture featured little Kathleen in the arms of a grim reaper and another displayed Kathleen’s face as part of a skull and crossbones.

They also hitched a coffin to a pick-up truck and parked it on the street in front of the dying girl’s house (they have since claimed it was a Halloween decoration). As you can imagine, after the news story aired, everybody involved started reaping what they sowed. The adult bullies started getting death wishes of their own, their house got egged, and the public started calling them “lousy excuses for humans” and saying they wished to meet them “in a dark alley.” (And those were the nicest comments.)

In fact, since a local news channel covered the feud, the bullying woman has been arrested for assaulting another neighbor and two of her children have been sent to live with their father. Reporters, of course, flew to these stories of the woman’s demise like vultures to a dying carcass while much of the public celebrated the bone-picking.

On the other hand, the outpouring of grace for little Kathleen Edward was monumental. Thousands of people attended a rally organized via Facebook in her support. And a local toy storeowner–who reported being bullied as a child–gave Kathleen a shopping spree as a show of care and apology for her mistreatment.

I don’t know about you, but if you’re anything like me, you watch the video and read the end of the story with a sort of sick satisfaction. Like good, everyone got what was coming to them.

But you know what? Part of me is aware that my reaction, despite being defensive of a little girl, is still lacking. After all, feeling grace for the innocent, dying little girl is go-to-grace. It’s good and noble and right. But at the same time, it’s the easy end of the grace spectrum. The kind of compassion even the cutthroats among us can muster.

You know what big, deep, larger-than-life grace does? It finds mercy and understanding and encouragement for the vicious adult bully on the other end of the grace spectrum, too.

Real grace finds a way to feel the same thing for that hurting, messed up neighbor lady as it does for the little girl.

Truly transformative grace is so inclusive, so everybody-in, that it makes the general public flinch at who it lets inside.

I’m not there yet, but the older I get, the more I hope to make people flinch at the kind of grace that comes out of me. You?

Did you flinch at the idea of grace for the aggressor? How would you have responded to this neighbor?

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sarahcunningham@hotmail.com'
Sarah is the author of "Dear Church: Letters from a Disillusioned Generation," "Picking Dandelions" and her newest title, "The Well Balanced World Changer."