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Former teen star acts on Christ’s call

EDITORS’ NOTE: This is the second in a four-part series profiling LifeWay Christian Resources’ women authors and speakers.

DALLAS (BP)–For Lisa Whelchel, acting on her call to share the Good News of Jesus Christ is just a fact of life.

The former teen star best known for playing Blair Warner on the long-running sitcom “The Facts of Life,” Whelchel now is a popular author and speaker, sharing inspirational stories about her real life as a pastor’s wife and mother of three.

While she is focused on building character, not playing a character on television, that isn’t to say her stage presence and training in the entertainment business don’t serve her well in her women’s ministry.

Anyone who has been to her lively MomTime Getaways can attest to her engaging ability to captivate a crowd, while enthusiastically imparting an enriching message.

“I want it to be a lot of fun. An awful lot of ministry can happen through laughter. The Lord does show up. He has to agree,” said Whelchel, 42, who became a Christian when she was 10 years old, an event that no doubt helped her avoid many pitfalls of celebrity.

Whelchel, at age 13, became a Mouseketeer on “The New Mickey Mouse Club” and later landed the role as the spoiled boarding school student that made her a household name.

Her household role of wife and mother, which now sparks her imagination and passion, began in 1988 when she married Steve Cauble — the same year The Facts of Life went off the air after nine years.

“She is so gifted and creative,” said Faith Whatley, director of women’s ministry for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, which has scheduled four of Whelchel’s MomTime events for 2006.

“Lisa has such a passion for moms of all ages,” Whatley said. “She is the kind of person you want to have a cup of coffee with around your kitchen table. She is just a normal mom who struggles with the same things that we all face as mothers. She is so transparent that it does not take long to realize she is just like you.”

Whelchel’s animated style and the casual atmosphere of the fun-filled two-day events have become trademarks of a ministry that began in her own home. Even on her website, her vivacious personality comes through as she writes that she hopes guests who may have entered as a fan, leave as a friend.

Whelchel’s getaway events are intended not only to touch on the scriptural basis for what mothers do but also to pamper stressed-out moms.

“Sadly, the very women who need it the most are going to feel the guiltiest about coming,” Whelchel said. “They think, ‘My husband couldn’t handle [taking care of the kids]’ or if they’re single moms, they just don’t want to leave the kids. But they are the women that need to take a day.

“What they’re doing is filling up and investing in themselves,” and exploring a deeper spiritual journey, Whelchel said.

Whelchel also recently partnered with LifeWay to develop “Creative Correction: The Bible Study,” a six-session group study based on her first book of the same title, which was published in 2000. In it, Whelchel shares her own parenting experiences with refreshing candor and plenty of self-directed humor. She gives readers effective discipline tools that worked for her and produced long-term beneficial results with her children.

The book initially was an outgrowth of her frustration with the fact that traditional advice wasn’t working with her son, who was later diagnosed with attention deficit issues. Whelchel developed flexibility in dealing with everyday issues of disobedience, selfishness, laziness, tattling and lying that manifested themselves differently in each child, and she realized it could help other parents recognize the individual needs of their children.

The practical primer and Bible study have a biblical underpinning that inspired her innovative ideas to teach moral values like responsibility, self-control and kindness by expanding discipline beyond timeouts and spankings.

By virtue of being her inspiration, Whelchel’s three children, Tucker, 15, Haven, 13, and Clancy, 12, are the stars of much of her diverse ministry, and the inspiration for another of her books, “So, You’re Thinking About Homeschooling.”

She bounces ideas off the three teens, and admits they are her “guinea pigs” in her parenting journey.

“It’s like show and tell. Thankfully, they’ve been cool with it. I tell them they will receive their reward in heaven,” she laughed.

Whelchel also is the author of “The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me” and “The ADVENTure of Christmas.”

Her fifth book, “The Busy Mom’s Guide to Prayer,” released in the spring of 2005, reflected another part of her personal journey.

“I felt so guilty about my own prayer life,” Whelchel said. “What a waste, I thought, to have the power and privilege of affecting my children, let alone the world, and not use it. I wrote down everything I ever want to pray for.”

The way this busy mom dealt with it was to develop a system to spread all those prayers out over a month so she wasn’t overwhelmed with the weight of it each day.

From U.S. senators to missionaries in Jerusalem, right down to things in her everyday life, she gave each prayer a time slot so it would not be forgotten.

Ever gracious to the inevitable question about the stark contrast between being an author instead of an actress, Whelchel concedes writing is lonelier and less lucrative and less glamorous.

“It’s a lot harder,” she said with emphasis. “It’s not as much fun, either. At least with acting, I got to be around a lot of people and there was a lot of attention and a lot of money.” But she knows that writing has become her primary ministry at this juncture in life.

“I have to do this,” she said. “It’s what God has called me to do. If I tried to go back to acting, I don’t think it would be fun again, because God would not be blessing it.”

It is an obedience that illustrates what Whelchel says is the guiding verse of her life, Proverbs 3:5-6, which says to trust in the Lord with all your heart.

“If there is one thread throughout my whole life, it is that the Lord has proven Himself so faithful.”
The 2006 MomTime events are scheduled for Jan. 27-28 in Austin, Texas; Aug. 18-19 in Tyler, Texas; Sept. 29-30 in Monroe, Mich.; and Oct. 31-Nov. 1 in Lexington, Ky. For more information, go to www.lifeway.com/women.

    About the Author

  • Andrea Higgins