I have been blessed to meet some incredible people in my life, but one of the most amazing was a spin class instructor in Paducah, Ky., who became a close friend.

Julia is the most thankful and gracious person I have ever known.

I knew Julia (and husband Mark) for two or three years before I put two and two together and realized they are the parents of a young lady who had been shot at one of America’s first random high school shootings, two years prior to Columbine. Dec. 1 marked the 20th anniversary.

As students gathered around the school's flagpole for prayer one morning a fellow student pulled out a stolen pistol and began firing, killing three and injuring five more.

Mark and Julia’s daughter was severely injured and it was that experience that Julia says caused her to choose thankfulness and to express it with gratitude.

Paducah is a small town where everyone knows their neighbors and Mark and Julia knew the shooter's parents, who were active and engaged in the school and the community.

On about the third day of their daughter's recovery, and having never left her side at the hospital, Julia said she took a call from a friend who told her that the shooter's parents would like to come to the hospital and express their sorrow and grief for what their son had done.

She said her first instinct was to say no way, absolutely not.

But she said she would talk to her husband and let them know.

So Mark and Julia discussed it with their daughter and together came to the agonizing conclusion that to get beyond it, they must face their conflicted feelings.

Julia said that as soon as the boy's parents saw them, they burst into tears and expressed deep sorrow for what their son had done and the pain he had caused so many families.

Julia said she had no doubt their sorrow and pain was genuine and she, Mark and their daughter knew that as Christians, they had no choice but to forgive, but moreover, they wanted to forgive these hurting and grieving parents.

Julia said, “I decided in that moment that I could not be thankful (for her daughter’s survival and healing) if I could not forgive.”

Everyone who knows Julia, loves Julia, because everyone she meets is greeted with a smile, a hug and an infectious sense of thankfulness.

So yes, Dec. 1 reminded me of an anniversary; an anniversary that a young man intended for evil but God used for good.

Gary Adkisson is publisher of the Bismarck Tribune.

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