Passing the Test of Faith
by Lisa Tramontana
Sarah Holliday James says illness and personal tragedy have not shattered her faith.
If anyone’s faith has been tested, especially in the past year, it’s Sarah Holliday James. But her faith is stronger than ever.
A bright, friendly, sociable woman, James has enjoyed a busy professional and family life for the past 30 years. But illness, the death of her mother, and flood damage to her home this year have forced her to stop working and focus on recovering physically and emotionally.
A year ago, Sarah was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had surgery to remove it. The tumor was benign, but the experience was frightening because Sarah was in the midst of a two-year battle with breast cancer and was going through chemotherapy at the time.
“It has been a lot to go through,” she said. “There have been so many challenges, but my faith has sustained me and kept me strong.”
Faith from the very beginning
In fact, her faith has been a part of her character for as long as she can remember. Originally from Blairstown, La., Sarah remembers sitting on the “mourning bench” at the age of 9, waiting to be baptized, praying for a sign that she was ready. “We would go to church every day after school, and the children would sit on that bench and listen to the pastor’s teachings about Christ and his love for us. One day, I just got this feeling and I knew it was time. And I gave my life to Christ.”
That solid faith foundation came from her mother, Sarah said, which is why it was so painful when her mother passed away last August. “She was 73 and died of cancer,” Sarah said. “But she was ready. She knew (and I know) that one day, we are all going to leave this world, and we just have to make sure we’re prepared when it happens.”
An advocate for worthy causes
Sarah’s education and career have provided her with the tools to accept whatever the future holds. Armed with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and psychology from LSU, she worked as a judicial assistant in Baton Rouge’s criminal court for nine years. “I’ve seen what can happen to families,” she said. “I’ve seen how people’s choices can tear their families apart, put people in prison, take away their hope. But there are a lot of things you can do to have resolution in your life.”
That means praying for your enemies as well as your loved ones, healing broken relationships and doing things to make you happy, she said. “No one knows when their time is, so you’ve got to make sure your soul is right … and you’ve got to do it now!”
That attitude of determination comes from the fighter within Sarah. Over the years, she’s been active in community affairs at every level. In 2010, she made history as the first African American club president of Republican Women in Louisiana. She helped charter Capital City Republican Women in an effort to advocate for fairness, diversity and education in the fight against racism, crime and poverty. After her breast cancer diagnosis in 2014, she added cancer survivor to her resume and participated in cancer events as well.
Chemotherapy visits were tolerable when Sarah had her husband at her side.
Taking time for herself
Not long after her mother passed away, Sarah and her husband Larry had to move in with a relative when their Park Forest home was flooded. Because of the brain tumor, Sarah lost some of her short-term memory, and had to give up driving. She also had to turn over management of her promotional products company to her son and his wife. (In 1985, Sarah founded her own company, Hollico Ad Specialties).
The living arrangements have been an adjustment. “Now, I just stay at home,” she said. “I still cook occasionally and I can get around by myself. When I feel up to it, I go to church at Promised Land. I’m lucky that I have such a wonderful husband and two great children who have helped me in so many ways.” Sarah stays busy on social media, and often shares inspirational quotes on her Facebook page. Her New Year’s message to friends was a reminder to appreciate God’s gifts: “Each season of the changing year has blessings all its own, something special that belongs to just that time alone. Each year is a gentle reminder of God’s gift of life on this earth. He comes into our lives like a new dawn, a new day, a new hope … “ As Sarah regains her strength and makes plans for 2017, her advice to others is to practice love in everything you do. “Stay close to your family. Mend all the broken friendships and relationships in your life. Take care of personal business such as wills and debts. And then, just treat others well. Keep a positive outlook … because no matter what happens, there is so much to be grateful for.”