The other night, while watching the premiere of Survivor 2012: Philippines, I was intrigued to see that Lisa Whelchel, former child star of the 1980s sitcom Facts of Life, is one of the contestants. I had vague recollections of Whelchel’s post-TV life. Raised a Christian, she’d ended up becoming a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mom, and author of a couple of books, one of which had gained some notoriety because it was a parenting book that advocated what Whelchel called “creative” discipline ideas that included putting hot sauce on a kid’s tongue as punishment for mouthing off.
Odd to see her on Survivor. Even odder to learn, after doing some random poking around to see if I could find her old Coffee Talk blog, that she and her husband of 25 years had quietly divorced last December. Back in my Charismaniac days, I’d read something that Lisa Whelchel had written about how she and her husband had gotten together, and according to what I could recall of her story, God basically told her to marry her husband.
I did a little more digging, and I actually found the article. Now that I’m in a different place in my Christian faith and no longer put much stock in the idea that we should be focusing so much on “hearing from God” (but instead ought to focus on the written Word He’s already given us), it was especially interesting to trace the Charismaniac elements of her story. From the Crosswalk site, here’s how Lisa Whelchel described her “arranged marriage” 12 years ago:
I’m so thankful that I waited to follow the Good Shepherd’s voice to find the man I was supposed to marry. I must admit, though, that it didn’t happen quite the way I imagined it would. I mean, come on, what daughter wants her Father to choose a husband for her?
Steve, and I became friends when I was assigned to a prayer group that he, as a pastor, was appointed to oversee. His boss, Pastor Jack Hayford, had organized “affinity” groups in our church to provide a safe place where members who were in the entertainment industry could be open and transparent about their prayer needs. Our group consisted of four married couples, Michael and Stormie Omartian, Gabri Ferrer and Debbie Boone, Dominic Allen and Charlene Tilton, and Bruce Sudano and Donna Summer. Other than Donna’s manager, Susan Munao and the other pastor, Minnie Whaley, who was an elder in every sense of the word, Steve and I were the only single people in the group. Looking back, I can see that it was a set-up right from the start.
Our group met once a month, and every month I had the same prayer request. At twenty-two I was ready to get married and start a family, and I wanted to find God’s choice of a husband for me. Steve and the others were dutiful to pray. I should have known something was up when Steve asked if he could lay hands on me and pray. Just kidding!
But not entirely.
Over the next two years, Steve and I began to spend a lot of time together, and we became good friends. (Interpretation: I was not at all attracted to him.) Every so often, he would take me out for “the talk”—the one where, because of his integrity and desire not to take advantage of his position as a pastor, he would confess that he was feeling more for me than friendship. I would assure him that although I thought he was a really nice guy (girls, you know what I mean), I was not feeling those same stirrings. We would then resolve to continue going out as friends as long as it didn’t get too uncomfortable for either of us.
I had a plumb deal. I had someone to go to dinner and the movies with, and my boyfriend wasn’t jealous. Oops, did I forget to mention that I had a boyfriend? I’d better fill you in. I had been dating a contemporary Christian singer/musician who was on the road a lot. One weekend when he was home, we were out on a date, and I felt I had to tell him about my relationship with Steve, just to keep everything up front and—even though he wasn’t the Jewish guy—kosher. I mentioned that Steve and I had been spending a lot of time together and said that because he was so “safe,” he was the logical person to escort me to functions when my minstrel was out of town. I watched my music man from across the table as he struggled to place the name with a face, “Steve, Steve.… Oh yeah, the church organist! I don’t have to worry about him.”
So now I had all my little ducks in a row. Well, actually, I was not so sure about one little duckie—Steve’s feelings. He was so sweet; I just couldn’t bear the thought of his feelings getting hurt because of unrequited love. This time I initiated “the talk.” As gingerly as possible, I suggested that we not spend as much time together. I encouraged him not to take it personally; after all, I was planning to break up with my boyfriend as well.
I explained that I was going through a personal revival with the Lord. I was even considering joining YWAM (Youth with a Mission) on a mission trip for a year after the last taping of The Facts of Life. I told him that it would be best if I just concentrated on my relationship with God for a while. There. I had said it.
I relaxed back in my chair at the same time Steve leaned forward in his. He looked me straight in the eye and declared, “Lisa, I could be good for you.”
Where did that come from? Talk about out of the blue. Who had sneaked into the restaurant, kidnapped “Mr. Milquetoast,” and replaced him with “Mr. Big”? I was speechless, which is saying a lot. (Actually, it’s not really saying anything, is it? Oh, never mind.) I didn’t know how to reply, especially since there was something incredibly attractive about what Steve had just done. I decided that it was best not to respond at all, so we ordered dessert and pretended that the entire conversation hadn’t happened.
Many weeks passed, Steve and I as friend-ly as ever, while I continued to wholeheartedly pursue my relationship with God. I registered for a seminar at our church conducted by a visiting evangelist. The last session was to be an anointing service. There were hundreds of people in attendance, and she was praying for them one at a time, so the rest of us sat waiting quietly on the Lord in worship.
I had my hands lifted to the Lord as a gesture of praise when I felt the sensation of a gentle weight descend upon me. I recognized this feeling as the presence of the Holy Spirit. And because this kind of thing doesn’t happen every day, or even every year, I knew enough to pay attention. As I waited expectantly, the thought popped into my head, Would you ever consider marrying Steve Cauble? I knew this was God talking because it was the last thing I would have ever thought to think on my own. My knee-jerk response was: No. Are you kidding?
I shrugged the Holy Spirit off my shoulders and got back to the business of worship. But the thought would not go away. So I purposed to ponder it in my heart, but I certainly was never going to tell Steve about it.
The next day Steve was leaving town for a week, so after the seminar I visited Steve at his house. We chatted as he packed; then it was time for me to head home. Just as I turned to leave, he took my hand, led me to sit down on the couch, and looked at me with unusual urgency. “Listen,” he implored. “Before you leave, I have to ask you one question. Would you ever consider marrying me?”
Wow! This guy doesn’t say much, but when he does…it’s a doozy. I laughed nervously. “Funny you should mention that,” I said. Then I told him what had happened earlier at church, and we agreed that this was probably something we should pray about. Yeah, I know, pretty discerning, huh?
In my opinion, this called for more than praying—this called for fasting! If you know anything at all about me, you know that something has to be mighty serious for me to think about giving up food. But considering the fact that I had suddenly lost my appetite, it wasn’t such a tough decision.
Proverbs 11:14 says that safety comes with a multitude of counselors, and during the following week, I met with every pastor or elder I could schedule an appointment with. They all loved Steve and me and thought this was a fabulous idea. But by the time Steve got back from his trip, I was more confused than ever. How could this be God’s will? I mean, weren’t you supposed to want to kiss the guy you were going to marry? And I really wanted children. How was I going to do that?
We concluded that what we really needed was council from the Big Kahuna himself, Pastor Jack. He would know what we should do. So Steve called him up, and he invited us up to his house after the Sunday evening service.
We arrived just as Pastor Jack and Annas’s favorite television show, “Murder She Wrote,” was beginning. We had to sit there trying to act interested in a show that anyone could figure out within the first five minutes. I wanted to shout, “The butler did it! Now, can’t we get on with something a little less trivial, like the rest of my life?” But I stifled my impatience—thank goodness I’m an actress.
Mercifully the program ended, and it was time to receive from the hand of the master. We gave a full account of all that had transpired over the past few months. We covered the friendship aspect of our relationship; we addressed our age difference (Steve is thirteen years older than me); we talked about what we thought the Lord might be saying; and we reiterated our desire, above all, to do God’s will. The only thing I failed to mention was the tiny detail of the lack of physical attraction on my part.
Pastor Jack paused just long enough to break into a broad smile before he delivered his blessing, “Sounds good to me,” he beamed. “I think you should go for it!” What? That’s it? No alliterated three-point sermon? No big words that I would have to look up when I got home? I was stunned. Before I could react, Anna was offering me a piece of strawberry cheesecake, and we were talking about Jessica Fletcher and that stupid television show again. Help! I’m on a freight train, and I can’t get off.
Little did I know that this “little engine that couldn’t” was about to become a bullet train. Steve left the next day to accompany Pastor Jack to the Foursquare denomination’s district conference. After Pastor Jack was introduced, but before he began to preach, a huge grin burst across his face. Steve was like a son to him and he couldn’t wait any longer to act the proud papa. “Before I begin,” he began, “I have some happy news to announce. Our very own Steve Cauble is engaged to be married to Lisa Whelchel.” Gasps and applause erupted from the crowd.
Let me make sure you have the full picture. Steve knew full well that immediately after the benediction, the Foursquare grapevine would swing into action. It just so happened that Steve’s parents are Foursquare pastors themselves. So he sneaked out of the service and raced to a payphone to call me. I could tell from his voice that something was wrong as he tiptoed on the other line, “Uh…Lisa…you may want to get a hold of your mother before someone else informs her of our impending marriage.”
“Come again,” I said, hoping we just had a really bad connection and I hadn’t actually heard him say that we were engaged and I didn’t even know about it. He tried to explain that there apparently had been a little miscommunication: We obviously hadn’t made it clear to Pastor Jack that we had gone to him for his counsel, not his blessing. “Yowser, Bowser!” he exclaimed.
We hung up and it hit me: I’m engaged to a man who says, “Yowser, Bowser.”
I knew immediately that I would have to leave the church. There was no way I could go through with this. I mean, isn’t there a place in a wedding ceremony where the preacher says, “You may now kiss the bride”? It might be a bit embarrassing if I offered Steve my cheek. No, I would definitely have to leave the church. I realized that I couldn’t continue to attend, knowing that every little old lady I passed in the sanctuary would be whispering, “There goes the Jezebel who broke sweet Steve Cauble’s heart.”
When Steve got back to town, we met for dinner. I anticipated an intense evening of wrestling through our options as we figured out how to clear up this terrible misunderstanding. I was not prepared for how excited Steve was. Did he sincerely believe that just because all of Foursquaredom was thrilled about our engagement that I was too?
Apparently so, because the next thing he said was, “Well, I guess if we are engaged, I ought to buy you a ring.” Why was it so hard for me to say no? Did I really think that I could avoid hurting Steve’s feelings forever by continuing this charade? Sooner or later, I was going to have to do the loving thing and break his heart.
I was able to postpone the inevitable one more time when he said, “My friend Doug bought Christa an engagement ring at the mall. Let’s go look there.” Whew, I was off the hook. The truth is, I’d known for a long time what kind of engagement ring I wanted. I also knew—no offense—that I certainly wasn’t going to find it at the mall. I was sure that it would have to be designed specifically for me. I mean, really now.
As we drove to the mall, I rested secure in my superior taste in jewelry. The man behind the counter asked me if I had anything in particular in mind. “Well, frankly, I do. But I’ve never actually seen the ring; I’ve just imagined it. Perhaps it would help if I drew it.” The gentleman handed me a piece of paper, and I proceeded to draw an emerald-cut diamond in the center surrounded by two triangular, trillion cuts on each side.
The jeweler studied the slip of paper and then reached into the case and pulled out a ring. “You mean this one?” he asked.
There it was—my ring—the one I had never actually seen before. Oh no, I thought. I had drawn it! I couldn’t take it back and say, “Well, no, come to think of it, it was more circular in shape.”
Steve was elated. He whipped out his credit card and bought it on the spot. I’m pretty sure I even heard him say, “Praise the Lord.” But the Lord obviously had nothing to do with this. I mean, God created man and woman; He created the way they created babies. He knows about these things. He surely wasn’t a part of all these “coincidences.”
A few days later I panicked and caught the first flight to Nashville to visit my childhood friend, Michelle. Either she would help me figure out what to do or I could just have my belongings shipped to Tennessee. When I got there I went to the local Christian bookstore and bought every book in the shelf on “how to find the will of God.”
I spent the next three days in bed, alternately pouring over these books and pouring out my heart to God. This had gotten way out of hand and had escalated into a crisis of faith. It was more than an issue of whether Steve was the man I was to marry; this was now about whether God was the God I was to serve.
The way I saw it, either this was all a big joke and God had capriciously manipulated our lives for His own sick entertainment, or this was all my fault for not having the courage to say no or this was God’s plan for my life and I was destined to marry a man for whom I felt very little attraction. To me, all the options were devastating.
Because either my past was all a lie or my future was to be lived as one, I had to find the truth. What did I know for certain? Let’s start at the beginning: Okay, I believe there is a God. I have met Him personally, and He has proven Himself trustworthy in my life many times. I know that I know that He adores me and that He is good through and through. He is stronger than the devil’s schemes, and He is more powerful than circumstances, coincidences, or cowardliness. I could rest in this because I also knew for certain that I had sought His will with a pure heart.
The choice was mine. Was I going to trust God or trust my heart? I knew the decision I had to make, and I felt an unexplainable peace about it. When I boarded a plane home, I was wearing my new engagement ring and carrying the “Now That You Are Engaged” book I had purchased earlier in the week. I figured that since I had decided to marry this man whether the feelings were there or not, I could probably use all the help I could get.
The first suggestion in the book was that I fill out a sheet of paper entitled, “What I love about my fiancé.” I took out a legal pad and began to list all of Steve’s wonderful qualities. There was never a question about how much I admired and respected him, so this was easy. I even recall a time shortly after getting to know Steve when I remarked to a friend, “If the woman who marries Steve Cauble doesn’t realize what a prize she has, I will personally pay her a visit and knock some sense into her.”
Before I realized what was happening to me, somewhere up there around 35,000 feet, I had completed not one, but two legal-size sheets of paper filled with unexaggerated hyperbole extolling the many virtues of Steve Cauble. As I reread my list, something totally unexpected happened.
I fell in love.
When I got off that plane, I ran into my fiancé’s arms and gave him the sloppiest kiss you ever did see!
What do you know that you know that you know about God? Do you believe that He is all-powerful? Do you trust that He is all-good? Is He all-loving and all-holy? These are questions that you need to settle in your heart. There may come a time in your life when the only thing you can count on is the character of God. And that will be enough.
I noticed quite a few Charismaniac oddities in this story. First of all, there was the Charismaniac-style famous person name-dropping. Now that I’m away from this kind of thing, it’s interesting to remember how dazzled Charismaniacs seem to be by celebrities. They will mention them from the pulpit and make special concessions for them. If you’re a famous entertainer or athlete and you go to a Charismaniac church, it’s a good bet you’ll catch the pastor’s eye and get some special attention. In this case, poor Lisa Whelchel was basically railroaded into a marriage where she wasn’t attracted to her husband, and it was at least a little bit due to the pressure she felt after Pastor Jack Hayford announced her engagement from the pulpit of a big church convention – when she wasn’t yet actually engaged. Even if it was all a big misunderstanding and he made the announcement by mistake, why did Hayford think it was OK to name-drop like that? What did he think he was proving? What reason did he have for seeming to believe Lisa Whelchel’s engagement was so important that the people at the church convention would care about it…unless Hayford wanted to impress his audience with the fact that he was the pastor of a famous person?
Secondly, it’s just sad to me that a twentysomething-year-old young woman would feel compelled to enter an attractionless marriage (to a 35-year-old pastor) because she believed God was telling her to do so through the little coincidences like how the jeweler happened to have a ring on hand that matched Whelchel’s sketch. I mean, I know that arranged marriages were the norm for thousands of years, but even a lot of Old Testament stories seem to emphasize romantic attraction. It seems to me that what Whelchel had been taught about hearing God’s voice – through so many subjective means rather than through simple scriptural common sense – helped lead her down an unnecessarily burdensome path.
And what are we to make of God-as-matchmaker now, now that Whelchel’s marriage has ended?
This sort of thing is precisely why I’m so relieved to be done with Charismania.