A Near Death Experience and a Sacred Trust
by Janis Gaines
I’m currently taking a memoir writing class taught by Sam Uhl of The Cheerful Word. Our homework this week is to write about death and spirituality. Enjoy this beautiful worship song by Audrey Assad based on John Donne’s classic poem, “Death, Be Not Proud.”
Fifteen years ago, a man broke into my house in the middle of the night and raped me at gun point. My children and I were lucky to survive that night, and for me, that was a near-death experience. While this post will not be about that event, it definitely changed how I lived.
At the time I was a single mom with three young kids (3, 5, & 6) and I was definitely not “ready to go.” For years after that experience I lived in survival mode and made very conscientious choices about staying alive and protecting my kids. I was extra careful about every little thing — personal safety, driving, locking doors, parking lots, public areas, crowds — you name it. I became hyper aware of my surroundings. It was a different way to live. I thought about things that most people never think about. Most people take their safety for granted. I also think that most men have no idea what it’s like for most women to be concerned about these things.
I lived with a new insecurity of just being in the world. I began to feel that I could die at any moment and for any reason that I may not see coming. I felt a new sense of urgency to do the things that I felt “called to do.” This mainly involved being faithful with the songs that the Lord had given me over the years. For the past decade, I had written probably 40-50 spiritual songs. I realized that if I had died that night, those songs would have died with me.
While I had written them down, I had never done anything else with them. I always felt limited due to time and money — and ability. I only sing; I do not play an instrument, so doing any kind of real recording would mean hiring musicians, paying for studio time, etc, and all of that was beyond my knowledge.
For safety reasons, I moved to Atlanta and the kids and I moved in with my parents. Shortly after this, I found a Christian man with a recording studio in his basement who lived on the other side of town an hour away. Turns out that it was Fred Standifer, who was part of a Gospel quartet. I would go once a month to his house on a Friday night, when my church would host a kids’ night out, so that parents could have a date night. That was my date night with God.
I did this for the better part of a year. I would go by myself and sing my songs acapella and record them. I thought it may not be fancy, but if something were to happen to me, at least there would be a record of what the Lord had given me. At the end of all these sessions, Mr. Standifer never charged me for any of that time. I don’t know what he thought of my work, but I wasn’t expecting it to be free.
About a year later, a friend and I had moved to some nearby apartments. She offered to type all of my songs for me, and she made a special notebook of my work. This was a great gift. I would not have had the time to do this, and it was wonderful to have everything so organized and in one place. She really honored me by doing this. I knew she believed in my work.
Over the next decade (2000-2010), I would try to do things with the music here and there, but it never felt like the right time or place. Time and money as a single mom was a continual challenge. I sang at a few weddings, participated in an Open Mic night. I recorded one or two, more professional demos as new songs and some extra money would come to me. My work has always been well received by those who hear it, and it’s still a dream to professionally record an album and do more with it — or perhaps publish the songs so someone else could do something with them.
Then in 2012, I started this blog, Riches and Rhymes, and began to compile all of my work in one place, and I’ve been so proud of it. I love having it online. I don’t want things to get lost as I move or travel. It’s been very rewarding for me personally, even if no one ever sees it, but I’m hoping it will be a nice legacy for my children someday. I think it’s inspired me to write more, although most of what I write now is poetry. I do not receive “songs from the Lord” at the rate that I used to, but it is still my dream one day to record them and honor them to the level I feel they deserve. It feels like a holy trust that I’m meant to complete. I’ve never wanted to “make a name for myself” but only to be faithful to the call.
Sometimes I feel I haven’t done that well, but I know that God’s timing is not my own and that He loves me no matter what. Since I’ve lived in Asheville, I’ve been singing on the worship team at church and that has been good experience and very rewarding as well. I don’t live with the same fear of death as I did years ago. But I feel I still have work to do. I believe that “to live is Christ, but to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21) and that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). I believe that eternity will be an amazing journey, and I am secure in that. 🙂
© Asheville, NC
March 12, 2015