ATLANTA (BP)–Since the release of her book “Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero,” Ashley Smith has done so many media interviews and book signings that they’ve begun to run together in her mind. But she still remembers a call she received during one radio show.
“What do you say to somebody who’s addicted to meth but wants to know Jesus?” the caller asked.
Smith’s heart went out to the man, who was fighting the same demon she had for so long. The easy part, she told the caller, is believing Jesus died for us and inviting Him into your heart. The difficult part is walking with Him every day.
Smith knows the daily struggle of walking with Jesus. When her husband, Mack, was murdered in 2001, Smith was a Christian but living far from Jesus. After Mack’s death, the drug crystal methamphetamine took a strong hold on her. Eventually, her life was in such disarray that she gave custody of her daughter, Paige, to her aunt.
When accused killer Brian Nichols took Smith hostage on March 12, she had started rebuilding her life. She was working and going to school, had her own apartment and was looking forward to being ready to have custody of her daughter again. Every day she read a chapter from Rick Warren’s book, “The Purpose Driven Life.” She was determined, she said in an interview, to hear God speak to her through it. Though she didn’t use drugs constantly anymore, she still struggled with addiction.
During those hours as a hostage in her own apartment, when Smith wasn’t sure she’d make it through the night alive, God changed Smith. Nichols asked her if she had marijuana. She didn’t -– but she offered him the crystal methamphetamine she did have. When Nichols asked Smith to use the drug with him, she refused and hasn’t wanted the drug since. She also read to Nichols from The Purpose Driven Life.
“I really didn’t think God was going to give me another chance,” Smith said. “So what I did at that time was surrender completely to Him and say, ‘You probably are going to take me home tonight, and before You take me home, I need to get right with You.’
“In doing that, God did give me another chance.”
TELLING THE WHOLE STORY
Smith said she’s received a lot of criticism since revealing in Unlikely Angel her drug addiction and the fact that she gave crystal meth to Nichols. But she knew she had to tell the whole story.
“I believe that if I wasn’t completely honest, it would have held me down,” Smith said. “I thought about it for a little while, and I thought, ‘I just have to do this. It’s right for me to tell the truth about what happened and then elaborate on it to help other people.'”
At book signings around the country, readers have given Smith letters about their own struggles. Some confess addictions; other people say God used her book to remind them of less obvious areas they needed to surrender to God’s control.
“I believe that’s what it’s all about -– spreading the Good News and letting people know we live for Jesus and they can do it too,” Smith said.
Lately God has been telling Smith to take life day by day. The release of Unlikely Angel has brought with it many invitations for interviews, speaking engagements and book signings -– and the challenge of knowing which to accept.
“Because I am speaking the name of Jesus Christ to the world now, Satan wants to attack,” Smith said. “Everything that may seem good in front of me may not be good.”
After being basically absent from her daughter’s life for two years because of her drug addictions, she doesn’t want Paige to feel abandoned again. She’s asked friends to pray that she’ll know when she needs to be home with Paige and when she needs to travel to share her story. “That’s one of the most difficult decisions I have to make right now,” Smith said.
When Smith is not on her book tour, she’s living with Paige and her aunt and uncle. She’s involved in her church and rebuilding family relationships that were painful during her addiction.
“I can actually be with my daughter and know that the feelings I have are not drug-induced,” she said.
She is helping Paige understand how their relationship has changed since she gave control of her life to Jesus. “You’re dealing with a different mommy here, kid,” she told Paige. “Two years ago Mommy would have let you do whatever you wanted to. These days, I’m the boss.”
She prays daily that Paige will accept Jesus as her Savior and Lord. “My plan is to try to live my life in a way that she will see God through me and that she will want what I have,” she said.
She knows, too, that eventually she’ll have to share her own story with Paige. “One day I’m going to have to hand her that book and say, ‘Paige, these are some mistakes that Mommy made.'”
She hopes Paige will see in her the difference that letting God guide your life can make.
DEPENDING ON JESUS
In her own life, Smith knows she still needs a lot of guidance. She used to take drugs to avoid dealing with difficult problems. Now, she said, she immediately gets on her knees. She also surrounds herself with family and friends who care about and pray for her.
“You just wouldn’t believe the support and the team I have around me,” she said. “The first thing on the to-do list in their lives is just to love Jesus and do as He says.”
Smith hopes to be strong enough one day to minister face-to-face to those with drug addictions. For now, though, she’s letting her book speak for her. “Right now my way of reaching those people is writing this book and saying, ‘There is somebody out there like you.'”
Being honest in her book about her struggles was embarrassing but, she said, “I’ll tell everybody my story if it will bring people out of their misery.”
She’s heard many people say she’s likely to fall back into drug addiction. “I’m a human being, and I pray every day that doesn’t happen,” she said. “I depend on the people around me and Jesus Christ for that.”
She prays God will help her critics understand the miracle He’s worked in her life, and she encourages other Christians to reach out to people with drug addictions. When she was at the lowest point of her addiction, she didn’t want to go to church because she knew how bad she looked physically because of the drugs. “It’s very important not to judge people when they come in [to church],” she said. “Not everyone really does want to change, but there are people out there that really do want to change but are scared to ask for help.”
And, she said, don’t give up on addicts. Many addicts, like her, try repeatedly to change before their addictions are finally broken. “One of the times that they try, it’s going to work for them,” she said.
Smith plans to get involved in Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered recovery program started at Saddleback Church in Southern California, just as soon as her schedule slows down. “Not only can I reach people there, but those people can reach me too,” she said.
MAKING GOD SMILE
After her hostage ordeal, Smith finished reading The Purpose Driven Life and met the book’s author, Rick Warren. “He’s such a cool guy. I don’t know what I expected him to be like, but whatever I expected, he totally wasn’t,” she said. “He’s very down to earth and fun to be around and very encouraging.”
He even invited her to join him on a missions project in Africa -– an offer she’s seriously considering.
Now that Smith has finished The Purpose Driven Life, she’s reading a book for single mothers, a devotional book about grace and the Bible. “The Bible is the most interesting book I’m reading, and I used to think it was the most boring,” she said. “I find myself reading and reading and reading.”
She said she asks God for guidance before she does anything. “I know it’s making Him smile that I’m allowing Him to reach people through me,” she said. “I honestly believe God saw that I wasn’t going to take the glory for myself … but I was going to just proclaim His name and let everybody know the truth about … how He saved me by His grace.”
HOW TO PRAY
Smith said she needs other Christians to pray for her as her new life unfolds. “Just pray that God would give me guidance of when to be home and when to be working,” Smith said.
She also asks people to pray that she stay humble and that the Holy Spirit protect her from Satan so she can reach as many people as possible with the Good News of Jesus.
“I just want to reach out to people and let them know Jesus is the way,” Smith said. “I’m addicted to Jesus now.”