[The following piece is the latest edition of a column I write for a local chain of suburban Cincinnati newspapers.]
Ashley Smith knew what it was like to have the law after you. She'd had more than a few contacts with the criminal justice system in her twenty-six years and not because she'd been a model citizen, either.
She also knew what it was like to have one's life upended in a moment of violence. Three-and-a-half years before, she'd been widowed when her "good old boy" husband was stabbed to death.
Those facts alone probably qualified Smith to clearly understand what was going on in Brian Nichols' mind when, as she moved into a new apartment, Nichols took her hostage. Just a few hours before Nichols followed Smith into her apartment, Nichols had gone on a murderous rampage in an Atlanta courtroom and fled, setting off a desperate manhunt.
Smith's experiences could have added to her terror, but she seems to have been calm throughout an ordeal that lasted seven hours.
Incredibly, Smith's calm demeanor pacified Nichols. He put his guns under Smith's bed and listened as she spoke to him about her desire to live in order to raise her young daughter. Later, she prepared breakfast for her hostage-taker and she read from the Bible to him.
She also read and re-read sections from chapter 33 of Rick Warren's extraordinary book, The Purpose Driven Life to the interested Nichols.
That chapter begins with the succinct insight, "We serve God by serving others." Somehow, Brian Nichols was touched by those words, telling Smith that he too, wanted to be a servant.
Because of her demeanor and the sharing of herself and her faith, Smith led police to her captor. My guess is that Brian Nichols was relieved to be taken into custody. He probably will lose his life now, but he may well use what life he has left serving the God Who went to a cross in order to serve us all.
Brian Nichols could do with the rest of his life on this earth what so very few of us ever do: Live our lives according to God's purposes.
Based on the Bible, Rick Warren identifies five basic purposes for all of us: bringing pleasure to God; being part of God's family, the Church; spending our lives becoming more like Jesus; serving God; and sharing the Good News of Jesus with others.
Ironically, right now our congregation is preparing for a special time of personal renewal called 'Forty Days of Purpose,' beginning on April 7. During this time, groups of people will read and discuss Warren’s book. Our worship celebrations and some special events will be built around understanding and living God's five purposes for our lives.
We're offering this opportunity for personal renewal to everyone in our community. We're not out to fatten our membership roster or take anybody's money.
If you live in the Cincinnati area and would like to participate, we'll give you a copy of Rick Warren's book free.
We'll also get you in touch with a small group where you can discuss what you're reading in a friendly and no-pressure atmosphere.
My guess is that there are thousands of people in our community who want to understand the purpose for their lives. Why not set aside forty days to do that?
For more information on how you can participate in 'Forty Days of Purpose,' contact the Friendship Church via email at FriendCh@aol.com.