The Facts Of Life With Lisa Whelchel
From “Blair” to “Busy Mom”
When author and actress Lisa Whelchel was in elementary school, her second grade teacher noticed something about Lisa that concerned her—Lisa was very, very shy.
For those of you who know Lisa best for her role as bubbly Blair on The Facts of Life, this may come as a bit of a surprise. But then again, you could just call that one of the facts of life. God “takes the good and takes the bad,” our strengths and weaknesses, through all the stages of life and makes them into something usable for His glory. Lisa Whelchel is living proof of that.
Setting the Stage
Rather than letting Lisa burrow away into a life of oblivion, God, through the ploys of a concerned teacher and a well-meaning mother, used Lisa’s weakness as a platform to reveal His strength.
Shortly after talking with Lisa’s teacher, Lisa’s mom went into “super mom overdrive,” Lisa recalls, and enrolled Lisa in a summer acting class in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness.
“It really didn’t help me overcome my shyness,” Lisa confesses. “That was something the Lord worked in me later in life in assurance of His love, and that began to help break down some of that fear and insecurity that manifested itself in shyness… But it certainly gave me something that I loved to do… Ever since I took that first lesson, I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.”
Stealing the Show
By the time she was 13, Lisa was living every child’s dream as a Mouseketeer on the New Mickey Mouse Club. In a matter of years, this beautiful, brown-eyed Texas native had gone from “quiet as a mouse” to the New Mickey Mouse, already revealing God’s work in her life.
Then in 1979, nearly 3 years later, Lisa landed on the hit TV sitcom The Facts of Life where she stared as Blair Warner. Although nothing like the spoiled school girl she portrayed, Lisa admits that it was surprisingly easy to play the part.
“I don’t know what that says about me,” she questions half-heartedly. “It was a lot of fun. But I would never get away with acting like her. My mother wouldn’t let me,” she says with a laugh.
Lisa’s parents were very supportive of her acting career. While they lived in Texas, Lisa lived mostly with her grandmother in California and was able to complete her schooling thanks to the help of an on-set tutor.
Living as a child star obviously had its give and take. You could hardly consider Lisa’s childhood normal, yet the struggles she faced during this time weren’t any different than the struggles that a typical teenager might face.
Saved at the tender age of 10, Lisa deftly avoided the temptations of the stereotypical Hollywood scene.
“We’re all born with an emptiness inside that’s meant to be filled with Jesus so that we can have a relationship with our Creator. When I moved to California, that was settled, that was satisfied. I didn’t need to go down those paths that a typical child star goes down looking for things to fill him or her up. My identity wasn’t as a star; it was as a child of God. My goal wasn’t to become famous; it was just to obey the Lord. That really made all the difference in the world,” Lisa realizes. “I’m so grateful that I knew the Lord before I moved to California.”
The Curtain Call
Lisa’s 9 years on The Facts of Life were marked with a sisterly bond among the four girls. Then, two years before the final episode of The Facts of Life, Lisa met Steve Cauble, the man who would soon become her husband, in a prayer group in California. By 1988, The Facts of Life filmed its last season, and Lisa was already beginning to enter into a new season of her own life.
“We filmed our last episode of The Facts of Life in March of ’88, and I got married in July of ’88, got pregnant in ’89, then had a child in ’90, ’91, and ’92,” Lisa remarks matter-of-factly. “I really just planned on being a woman of the ’90s and bringing my kids on the set with me with a guardian. But God had other plans. And He pretty much said, ‘No, that season of life is over. This is the new season of life.’”
At that point, Lisa took her final bows and bid adieu to the stage, embracing her new role as a full-time pastor’s wife and mom.
“There were some transition struggles, but the transition wasn’t from something good to hard, it was from something good to better. . . . I just love being a mom,” she confesses, emphasizing her Texas drawl. “There’s nothing that’s been more fulfilling in my life. As good of a time as I had on the set and in show business—and those are wonderful memories—they pale in comparison to the joy of being a mother.”
Taking Her Cue
For the next 10 years, Lisa’s world revolved around being a wife and a homeschooling mother to her three children—Tucker, Haven, and Clancy. Originally, Steve and Lisa had planned on sending their children to private school, but with her husband on a pastor’s salary and all of the money lost from The Facts of Life, paying three tuitions was out of the question. Lisa’s new role as wife, mother, and teacher became her most challenging one yet, especially with a son who has ADHD.
“They just weren’t responding to traditional child rearing methods,” Lisa shares. “So I cried out to the Lord in desperation. He’s very creative and He knows each child individually. I began to really lean on Him to teach me how to raise these kids.”
Soon Lisa’s friends began to notice the out-of-the-box way she was disciplining her children and encouraged her to write a book about it.
“Of course, at that point I’d never even written anything besides our annual Christmas letter,” Lisa jokes. “But God is faithful. He equips us for that which He calls us.”
Out of that came her first book Creative Correction. “I wanted to share [what I’d learned] with other mothers and encourage them to not look to one book to find the answer to raising kids. That’s just not gonna happen. But we really can look to the Lord, depend on Him, and ask Him for His help. He is a very present help in time of need and very creative. We can find ways to discipline beyond timeouts and spankings…You really just have to lean on Him in utter dependence.”
Since then, Lisa has written over 10 books including a keepsake Bible study called This is My Story, a handbook for homeschooling So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling from Focus on the Family, an autobiography of sorts entitled The Facts of Life and Other Lessons My Father Taught Me, and books such as Speaking Mom-ese and Taking Care of the Me in Mommy which gave birth to the founding of MomTime Ministries to help refuel burned out moms like herself.
“I’ve learned in writing that [God’s] really not interested in what we have to offer. He’s a lot more interested that we offer what we have. And then He can take that and do something great with it,” Lisa shares. “I think He likes it when we’re not really even that good at it because when He does something amazing, then there’s just no question who deserves the glory.”
That’s a Wrap
Today, Lisa has just completed her latest book in The Motherhood Club. Like many of the books she’s written, The Busy Mom’s Guide to Bible Study is the result of what Lisa calls two very common themes in her life: guilt and desperation.
“I had three kids three years in a row, so trying to get up before them was not getting up early in the morning, it was getting up in the middle of the night,” Lisa comments and laughs. This began a cycle of guilt in Lisa’s life—a cycle that ironically led to a liberating discovery.
“I discovered that I just needed to change my perspective and my mindset from a quantity of time versus a quality of time. . . . Instead of thinking in terms of reading the Bible in a year or five Psalms and a Proverbs to just think in terms of one Scripture or one short passage, and then taking that and going deeper with it.”
Now that Lisa’s children are a little older (Tucker, 17, Haven, 16, and Clancy, 15), you’d think she’d have the whole working and being a mom thing figured out. Wrong. Lisa is still a true busy mom herself, learning to balance work and family. In fact, at the present, Lisa’s taken a year sabbatical from writing to focus on her family and spend time with her children while they’re still at home.
“I’m kind of an all or nothing girl. So I’m always thinking of a good idea and I’m always wanting to minister,” Lisa explains. “It’s very easy for me to think in terms of productivity as things that you can show for, and you can’t always see the results in raising a family.
“That was a struggle for me, and God saw my heart and pretty much said, ‘We’re going to sideline you here… Let’s do some work on relationships.’ And that’s really what my focus is this year. It’s investing in relationships and that takes time. Not only the relationship with my family, but developing intimate friendships and community, and knowing myself better so that I can be authentic in relationships,” Lisa adds, “and of course, primarily, having an intimate grace-based relationship with the Lord. God knows our frailties—He’s created us and He works with us.”
And these, you know, are the real facts of life.