Friday, October 2, 2009

Lisa Whelchel

I have clear, distinct memories of myself at the age of thirteen. I was shy, sensitive, and sweet. I often went along with whatever my friends were doing in fear of feeling different. I enjoyed school for the academic part; I loved learning new things and reading. After school I would come home and finish all my homework to allow me to spend time with my family. The best part of those days, however, were the nights when I would make myself a bowl of cookie dough ice cream and plop on the couch for my favorite TV show. While all my friends were at home listening to N*Sync or watching trashy MTV shows, I was dancing around my living room to the Facts of Life theme song. The show ended its run before I was even born, so it may seem unusual that I enjoyed it so much. Although it was older, the topics they touched on were all the same challenges I faced. Little parts of me identified with each character, I loved being able to find myself in the conversations they shared. Although I didn’t always identify with Blair, she had characteristics I strived for. I envied her confidence and honesty, as I had never been a big fan of myself. I admired Blair, she made me laugh until my stomach hurt, and when she dealt with obstacles; my heart went out to her. I became slightly addicted to the show and was deeply disappointed when it got pulled off Nick at Night. My one hour of happiness each evening was eliminated, but I never forgot the lessons I learned from the Facts of Life.

Let’s flash forward a few years: During college, I went through rough times with myself and my faith. I battled depression, social anxiety, and questioned God’s love. Luckily, God answered my cries by sending people into my life that helped pull me out of that dark time. One of these people was American Idol finalist Mandisa. She helped me to overcome a food addiction and to understand my faith a little clearer. Although she had (and continues to) helped me immensely, I still had something missing. Shortly after graduating from college, I would describe myself as a “lost, confused young woman”. I was anxious about the next steps I was taking in life and trusted very few people. One weekend, I decided to volunteer at a Women of Faith event in Cleveland, OH. I was a volunteer because I wanted to see Mandisa, but couldn’t afford the ticket price. In all honesty, I wasn’t expecting much. I was excited to hear a handful of speakers and listen to good music, but wasn’t expecting to walk away the changed person that I did. I could go on and on about how remarkable this organization is, I’m just blessed I was able to be a part of it!

All the volunteers were gathered around getting our assignments for the day when someone brought up the name Lisa Whelchel. I immediately recognized the name as “the actress who played Blair in Facts of Life”. My quiet, shy self suddenly yelped “WAIT. She’s going to BE HERE?” The other volunteers giggled at my excitement “You’re too young to know who that is!” they accused. I explained my love for Facts of Life, and everyone became excited for me. That’s another wonderful thing about Women of Faith- everyone there is so supportive of one another.

I had the lovely job of making sure no women went in the one men’s bathroom for the majority of the conference. As I was sitting out on the concourse of the venue, I heard the video package for Lisa. I recognized Mandisa’s voice singing the theme song. My heart started sinking; I knew I wouldn’t be able to hear most of her talk. Two seconds later, my friend Holly came running out of the arena “You go in there, you wanted to hear her!” I jumped out of my chair and sat down to hear Lisa talk. What I heard was so inspiring. I never knew the pain and suffering that she dealt with while she was filming the show. I was inspired by her honesty with us and how she let us know that she once needed to open up her heart, and encouraged everyone in the audience to find that one person who will be there to support you and be there for you through everything in life. Here I was, sitting in an arena full of Christian women, listening to my childhood hero talk about her faith, family, and the Facts of Life. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of the weekend; I had been so touched by Lisa’s words. She ignited something in me that made me want to change.

After the speakers were done for the day, the volunteers were asked to stand at the “talent table”. Basically, we were to stand in the meet and greet lines for the speakers/artists and do crowd control. I loved this job, as someone who is fascinated by the entertainment industry. Because everyone knew that I knew Mandisa, they allowed me to work her line. I looked over and saw that they were putting up a sign for Lisa Whelchel to sign as well. I stood there watching two of my idols meeting fans and sharing quick words of wisdom. I thanked God for blessing me with this opportunity. As Lisa’s line came to an end, I hopped on over. She was in a rush to get to the airport, so all I was able to communicate was “I’m a huge fan and LOVED your talk”. I couldn’t say that she had just inspired and motivated me, or that her values and ideals sparked something so big in me. I could just smile and get a quick picture with her.

I look back at that picture now and do just that- smile. After returning home from Women of Faith I read one of Lisa’s books and was even further touched by her testimony. She truly is an amazing child of God, and I can attribute my positive attitude and openness to love and listen to Lisa’s words. It is also because of her writing and talk that I am inspired to write. If I could impact one person the way Lisa has impacted me, I will feel accomplished in my goals and dreams.

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