Twenty-six-year-old Lauderdale County native Brittany Anne James shared how she has applied the adage "When life hands you lemons, make lemonade" to her own life experiences during a presentation at a recent meeting of the Center Hill Community Development Club.
"Several years ago, I had been invited by Mrs. Gloria Hughes to speak at a 4-H dinner sponsored by the community club," James said.. "This is like coming back home.
Her love for writing was inspired at a young age.
"When I was in the fourth grade at West Lauderdale Elementary School, my teacher inspired in me a love of writing through journaling," she said. "Toward the end of this year, I lost my older brother. Little did I know that this loss was just the beginning of more to come."
In fifth grade, James began experiencing eye problems.
" ... I had trouble seeing the words in my textbooks and reading what was written on the chalkboard," she said.
Assuming she would probably need glasses, James was taken to an eye doctor in Meridian. But instead of receiving a prescription for glasses, her mother was told that her daughter was probably going blind."
While this news was devastating, the young Brittany told her mom, "Don't cry, Mom; I don't mind being blind."
After seeing several eye specialists in Jackson, then Memphis, Tenn., James was diagnosed as legally blind. Her family was first told she had fundus flavimaculatus. During a return visit to Memphis, the specialists informed them James also had Stargardt's disease. According to her mother, Anne James, subsequent research revealed the two names are actually the same disease. She also noted that while the prognosis is uncertain, it seems that most cases do not regress to the current status of James' vision.
" When I was in the sixth grade, my dad, Billy James, was diagnosed with cancer. Several months later, I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior and plans were made to be baptized, with my dad to be there," James said. "Unfortunately, my dad lost his battle with cancer. I was baptized the following Sunday, which was Father's Day. I went on WTOK and made a commercial promoting Relay For Life."
Because of the degree of her vision loss, James needed to be homeschooled. Who better to do that than her mother?
Leaving her job as an elementary school teacher at West Lauderdale, the elder James and her daughter took the road less traveled to many wonderful and different opportunities as a homeschooled child.
"The homeschool group had a skating outing," James said. "I was playing air hockey when a boy who had been watching me play, challenged me to a game. I beat him – which was a little embarrassing for him. I told Mom later that while the young man didn't like being beat by a girl, he would have really been upset if he had realized that he was beaten by a blind girl!"
The homeschool students were offered a free lesson in the martial art of Taekwondo and James took advantage of it. Her mother didn't think she would really be interested. More than two years later, James earned her Black Belt. And, based on points she'd earned in Free-Style form for females in her age group at various competitions in Mississippi and other states in events, James was ranked second in the nation.
While taking a class in storytelling at Meridian/Lauderdale County Public Library conducted by Sara Mutziger, James realized she loved speaking in front of people. Through 4-H, she began public speaking, entering many competitions – and enjoying every minute of it.
James enjoyed acting and performing as well, developing these skills over the years through productions with the Meridian Little Theatre, Meridian Community College and the Roxy Theater in Newton. At 19, her first children's book, "Misty's Star," was published by Christian Services Network. As she continued to develop her love for writing, she began to write and sing songs. From this, she began auditioning at showcases – from New York to Hollywood – which lead to her landing a role in the movie, "Seeking Justice," which was shot in New Orleans and starred Nicholas Cage.
"I am standing in line waiting, and Nicholas Cage comes through by me, grabbing my shoulders," James said of her movie moment.
In her pursuit of singing and song writing, a record producer from Nashville who wrote "Austin" for Blake Shelton, heard James sing songs she'd written and offered her a record contract. While it was a dream come true for her, James decided to put the offer on hold. She is currently working on a college degree with a double-major in history and English literature, with double minors in liberal studies and humanities.
James concluded her presentation by reading from her book, "Misty's Star," which she dedicated to her mother. And, in response to a surprise request from a member, she also sang a verse and chorus from her song "Tiara and a Cowboy Hat."
Club president Robin Doerner opened the meeting with a welcome. Brent Stephens followed with a devotion from "Our Daily Bread" titled "Dreams of Childhood."
The writer had asked a group of fifth graders to prepare a list of questions to ask Jesus if He were to show up in person the following week. Responses went from adorable to poignant: "Will we have to sit around in robes and sing all day in heaven?" "How's my grandpa doing up there with You?"
Almost without fail, their questions were free from doubt that heaven existed or that God acts supernaturally. Adults, on the other had, followed a completely different line of questioning: "Why do bad things happen to good people?" or "How could a loving God let this tragedy happen to me?"
Stephens concluded: "Children live life unfettered by the cares and sorrows that burden adults. Their faith lets them trust God more readily. We, as adults, often get lost in trials and sorrows; children retain the psalmist's view of life – an eternal perspective that sees the greatness of God. God can be trusted and He longs for us to trust Him the way children do."
Refreshments were provided by Stanley and Kacy Lucky and Brent Stephens, hostesses.
Various committee reports were given during the business session.
Yard of the Month honors were presented to Patsy and Harris Wilder of Center Hill Road.
It was announced that stuffed animals will be collected at the club's next meeting and donated to the Lauderdale County Sheriff Department. The stuffed animals are given to young children involved in a domestic call or accident by officers of the LCSD.
A paper drive for Care Lodge will held at the November meeting.
Stanley Lucky's safety report was on extreme traffic on highways 493 and 495 during certain hours of the day due to construction of the lignite coal plant in Kemper County. Lucky urged members to be extra diligent while traveling the roads during these hours.
The meeting adjourned with the Pledge of Allegiance.
• Submitted by Cathy Clearman, secretary/reporter.