Today’s Life Lesson comes from a woman I am pleased and honored to call, “friend”. We met through her husband, Raphael James, who anchors the news at WCSC in Charleston. At lunch one day, he handed me some of his wife’s writings and after I read them, I thought, “I HAVE to get her writing for GEM.” I did and we’ve been fast friends ever since. Sarena, thank you for everything!

And if you’d like to take part in our Life Lessons exercise, email us here and we’ll shoot the questions over to you!

Are you happy at the moment?

Absolutely! Strange answer though because my life has not followed the script I wrote for it, to say the least. There was nothing in there about battling major health crises, sudden job losses, a parent dying when going to visit his dying sister (Daddy, I had no reason to tell you goodbye…), and certainly nothing prepares you for the emotional blow of having a child with Autism. Yet and still, I am happy, because I have an honest relationship with hope. The thought of things getting better makes me happy.  #joy

If you could go back and say anything to your 16-year-old self, what would it be?

Honestly, I love this question, because a few years ago “she” and I were not quite on speaking terms. I would tell her that I love her so much and of all the loves she knew and would come to know, mine would be of most importance. I would tell her to trust herself more, and not seek fleeting validation from shallow people. Lastly, I would tell her that life is going to be an amazing journey; embrace your growth, you’re going to love who you become!

What’s the most important thing you’ve year learned this year?

I’ve come into a personal relationship with four wonderful things; Purpose, Timing, Destiny, and Seasons. They have completely changed my perspective on life.  I believe these four have meetings and conversations we know nothing about.  Each of them takes detailed notes on our individual lives, and when all of them agree, we walk into great and amazing things! I no longer feel behind, or left out, or forgotten.   Without a doubt I know that these four have my back!

What do you most want to achieve in the next 12 months?

The perfect balance, I know right? The multifaceted me (wife, mother, advocate for children with special needs,, writer/blogger, teacher for Theater Arts (one day I’ll tour with my company), professional thinker (LOL) wants to do all of these things well, and to the best of my ability. I give a courtesy clap to the circus juggler who has a timed act of juggling apples and oranges. Juggling people, schedules, and commitments is much harder but I definitely want to learn that art!

What is the secret to happiness?

Two things work for me: A life seating chart and a word budget. I’m always careful who I let enter my life auditorium, and my most intimate spaces. I’m in the habit of checking ticket stubs (the character of people), because I don’t want negativity clouding my performance in life. And oh yes, I honestly budget my words as best I can! Some people and situations will withdraw every little thing from you and leave you emotionally bankrupt, if you allow it. Happiness is being in control of your own balance!

What one ritual or practice keeps you balanced?

Remembering. I hope I never forget to remember the immeasurable sacrifices of those who came before me. Those who fought in the civil rights movement, fought for women’s rights, and fought for children with special needs, are my everyday heroes. I think I honor them best by continuing to educate my children and other children on just how far we’ve come, and the work that still needs to be done.

What is your biggest regret?

Hmmm… I hesitate because every decision, be it bad or good, has led to this very moment in my life and I rather like where I am now.  I like the growth, and I like the growing. Any regrets I have pale with every morning I wake up, and have another chance to do things better.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve taught your kids?

My three beauties are still young, 11, 5, and 4, but my heart is full of gratitude when I see how genuine their love and concern is for each other. Sure they need individual space and tire from each others’ company sometimes but if one of them is hurt or sad or angry, they become a balm for each other.  My husband and I have tried to teach them sensitivity and an awareness that you are not in this world alone. If your brother or sister needs help and you can provide that, by all means do.

What bad habit would you most like to change about yourself?

I mentioned in Question 3 that I am a “Professional Thinker”, sometimes to a fault.  Simply put, I “What if” too much!  Some things would be better if I just step back and let them flow…

Aside from motherhood and marriage, what are you most proud of in your life?

August 2010. I wrote an article called the Judgment Free Zone, addressing our family journey with our son, who was newly diagnosed with Autism.  It was the first time I’d written my transparent thoughts for an audience of strangers via the world-wide web. I was sweating, my heart was beating fast, my thoughts were contracting, and my mouth was dry. Honestly, it felt like I was in labor again. I prayed, and read the article to my husband and mother, then hit send. Rene published it and there, on GEM, we realized that many people shared our story, and that others wanted to understand. One article birthed an entire website, I am proud of that for one reason: as difficult as it was to be naked and honest about our journey, complete goodness has come from it. Our family struggle is not in vain when we can help strengthen, enlighten, and inspire others.

When were you happiest?

I was happiest, the day I graduated from high school. I was happiest the day I graduated from college. I was happiest on my wedding day. I was happiest on the day that each of my children was born. Happiest keeps on finding me, and that’s a good thing!

What ten words best describe you?

Encourager, Giver, Lover, Upbeat, Smile-r, Friendly, Unique, Passionate, Compassionate, Stronger-than-I-thought-I-could-be.

Sarena James, 35, is a wife and stay-at-home mother of three who enjoys theater and writing. She and her family reside in Charleston, SC where they frequent historic tours and relax beach side. Originally from Aurora, CO, Sarena is a graduate of Paine College in Augusta, Ga.