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March 19, 2005
Column #1,229

                     
                 "The Purpose Driven Life"
                      
       Chapter 33 of Rick Warren's immensely popular book, "The Purpose Driven Life," begins with two quotes of Jesus:

      "Whoever wants to be great must become a servant." Mark 10:43

     "You can tell what they are by what they do." Matthew 7:16
    
     The chapter's opening paragraphs:

     "We serve God by serving others.
    
     "The world defines greatness in terms of power, possessions, prestige and position. If you can demand service from others, you've arrived. In our self-serving culture with its (ital) me-first (Close ital) mentality, acting like a servant is not a popular concept.

     "Jesus, however, measured greatness in terms of service, not status. God determines your greatness by how many people you serve, not how many serve you..."

     Ashley Smith, the 26-year-old widow who befriended Brian Nichols, a man who murdered four people and held her hostage at gunpoint in her apartment - read those words of Rick Warren to the killer.  Nichols, who grabbed a gun from a deputy sheriff, killed a judge, a court reporter, a customs agent and an immigration agent - asked her to read those opening words a second time.

     Scripture has that power. It can take the breath away. It can melt the heart of a murderer, especially if the person reading those words - embodies their meaning.

     He called her "an angel sent from God."

     Ashley Smith has led an imperfect life. At 16 she was arrested for shoplifting. At 18 she was sentenced to one-year probation for underage possession of alcohol. She got involved with the wrong crowd.

     Her life improved when she married Daniel Smith, Jr., a carpenter. They moved into a three-bedroom home and began remodeling. Soon afterwards, their daughter, Paige, was born.

     The New York Times reported the couple distanced themselves from wayward friends and even befriended a deputy sheriff: "But the old friends taunted Mr. Smith over his ties with the deputy and called him an informer. He fought them over it, and was stabbed in the heart."

     Her husband died in her arms. She told Nichols what it is like to lose a spouse to a murderer and begged him not to kill her, pleading it would leave her daughter  without a "mommy or a daddy." He listened.

     As she shared her life story with Nichols and listened to him, she won his trust.

     "He told me I was his sister and he was my brother in Christ, and God led him to me," she told reporters later. "I feel sorry for him."

     Her own life went into a spiral after her husband's murder, with arrests for drunken driving, speeding, a probation violation and assaulting her former stepfather. She spent months at a Christian clinic for drug rehabilitation, and her period "away from the Lord" ended, according to Kimberly Rogers, Ashley's aunt who cared for her daughter during this period.

     "She just really began a turnaround and began being in the Word," the aunt remarked. Ashley studied to be a medical technician, supporting herself as a waitress. She moved into a new home two days before Brian Nichols poked a gun at her and pushed her into her apartment.

     They talked through the night. She cooked him eggs and pancakes. Her approach was so winning that he asked if he could stay a few days to eat some "real food" and watch TV. They watched news coverage of his manhunt. He commented, "I cannot believe that's me on there."

     Nichols was raised as a good Catholic boy, became an engineer earning more than $100,000. He lived with a woman, but when the 8-year relationship hit the rocks, he impregnated another woman. He tried to reconcile with his old girl friend in "consensual sex," he said. She later claimed it was rape, for which he was on trial. He lost his great job.

     "Look in my eyes," he told her. "I am already dead."

     "You are not dead. You are standing right in front of me." Ashley prayed with him.

     That morning she could have escaped. Nichols cut her loose and left his guns on the bed. But she never picked them up. Instead, she read from "A Purpose Driven Life," and told him that he had a purpose in life, to turn himself in and spread the word of God in prison.

     "You are in my apartment for some reason."

     Hours later, he let her leave to see her daughter. She called 911. When the police arrived, he held up a white flag of surrender.

     But he had already surrendered to a rekindled love of the Lord by a woman who had surrendered herself after years of being lost.

     Both want a "Purpose Driven Life."

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