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Smith talks about encounter, her new life

Former Atlanta hostage credits her faith with survival, new clean existence
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Accused Atlanta shooter Brian Nichols sits in jail facing the death penalty if convicted of any of the four courthouse murders he's charged with.  New documents recently released take us inside the mind of the accused killer, revealing an extremely calm Nichols that morning in March.  He told one of the hostages "I got nothing to lose," when asked why he was doing it.

One of the most amazing stories to come out of that tragedy was, of course, the story of Ashley Smith, the unlikely hero who convinced Nichols to give himself up.  Now, she has just written a book called "Unlikely Angel," which detailed her really just harrowing night with Nichols. 

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough spoke with Smith and "Purpose Driven Life" author Rick Warren recently and started by asking Smith how the drug meth helped her tame the accused killer. 

To read an excerpt of the conversation between Scarborough, Smith and Warren, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

ASHLEY SMITH, FORMER HOSTAGE:  Well, he had actually asked me for some marijuana.  And I didn't have any.  And in the attempt to do everything that he said, like when he first came in, the words, "I have some ice" just came out of my mouth.

And, immediately, I kind of was like, oh, my gosh, what did you just say?  You can't give this to him.  He has allegedly killed three people that you know of.  And this stuff -- it made me crazy.  It made me bounce off the walls.  It made me paranoid and think people were after me.  And here I am telling this guy that I have it. 

So, I immediately, you know, said, you don't want that.  It is not what you want.  But he did in fact want it and he did in fact take it.  It actually calmed him down.  And I think that's one of the many miracles in this story, is that it did have the opposite effect that it does normally has on people.  And it just mellowed him out and calmed him down. 

So, I kind of could feel God's presence then, especially when he asked me if I was going to use them with him, and I said no.  I felt, honestly felt, God wrap his arms around me and say, look, I'm going to give you one more chance.  You can continue on this life that you have been living and I am going to bring you home, or I will give you one more chance, and if you can say no this time, then I will handle this addiction for you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  At that point when he asked you if you wanted some of the drugs and you said no, and you made that decision to turn your back on the life you had been living, isn't that the point where you mentioned "Purpose Driven Life" to him? 

SMITH:  Right.  When I said no, God was leading me back to him.  And, in fact, I did ask him if I could read at that time.  And that's when I went and got my "Purpose Driven Life" and read chapter 32 to him. 

After that, I stopped.  And he asked me what I thought my purpose was.  And I told him, maybe it was to talk to people about my life.  Then he asked me about what I thought his purpose feels.  And I told him that he needed to pay for what he had done and turn himself in, and maybe God had a place for him in prison to minister to the people there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Was there a point in the early morning hours that you thought that you were going to die? 

SMITH:  Yes.  From the moment I turned around and he was there with the gun at the front door, until that moment when I chose not to do the drugs, the whole time, I didn't have any hope that I was going to make it out of there alive.  I definitely thought I was going to die. 

I thought, this is God's way of showing me that I should have given this stuff up a long time ago.  I mean, he is not going to give me another chance.  And, in fact, God is not a mean God or a punishing God.  God did in fact give me another chance, which he definitely didn't have to.  He has given me chance after chance after chance.  And this time it really got my attention and woke me up. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Rick, could you explain that part of the story to people out there that don't understand the Christian faith, that see it as a judgmental faith?  And, really, the best example is Paul, who, before he became a Christian, spent his time actually going out and murdering Christians.

And, yet, he became perhaps the central figure after Christ was crucified.  What is it about this amazing grace that allows God to accept all of us who are broken into his heart, no matter what we have done? 

RICK WARREN, AUTHOR, "THE PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFE":  Joe, there's a verse in the Bible that says that our greatest weaknesses, God wants to turn into our strengths.  He wants to take our life message out of our mess. 

There is no message without a mess.  There is no testimony without a test.  And there's a verse that says God takes us through problems and then encourages us, so we can help others with the same encouragement that we have been given.  And this is what happened in Ashley's life. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What do you say to the relatives of those people murdered by Brian Nichols, who would say, if a God would forgive a guy that killed my husband, that killed my father, that killed my loved one, that is not the God that I want to worship?  What do you tell them? 
WARREN:  Yes.   Well, here is how I explain it.  If you took a scale from zero to 100 on how good people are, and let's put Mother Teresa at 95, because she is a saint.  And, you know, let's put Joe Scarborough at 45.  And we will put Rick Warren at 25.  And we will put Saddam at two or Hitler at zero, the truth is, nobody is perfect.

And we need somebody to make up the difference.  We have all fallen short.  I fall short of my own standards, much less God's.  And grace is a fact that God comes to Earth in the form of Jesus Christ and says, I'm going to make up the difference.  There's no doubt in my life that there are some people who are better than others in this world.  There are a lot of people better than me.  I have no doubt about it. 

But I'm not trying to get to heaven on my own effort.  God doesn't grade on a curve.  Heaven is a perfect place, which means there's no sorrow, no suffering, no problems, no pain there.  But it also means that if I'm not perfect, I can't get in, because, if you let imperfect people into heaven, it wouldn't be perfect any more. 

So, he had to come up with plan B, where he came to Earth, lived a perfect life, died for every sin I have ever committed and even the ones I haven't committed yet.  And when I put my trust in him, he makes up the difference.  And that is called grace.

SCARBOROUGH:  Ashley, is God big enough to forgive a murderer like Brian Nichols? 

SMITH:  I think God is big enough to forgive anything that anybody does.  That's why he died on the cross for our sins.  He didn't say, 'I want to forgive certain people for this sin and this sin.'  He died for all the sins.  And that includes that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Have you spoken with him or do you have any plans to talk to him while he is in prison, or have you written him any letters? 

SMITH:  No, I have not had any contact with him.  I really believe that God had a meeting for Brian Nichols and I.  And it was March the 12th.  And so, I do not have any plans to see him right now.  You know, if God puts it on my heart that that is what I should do, I am not going to disobey my father.