Investing in Eternity

Two occasions in Lisa Whelchel’s life stand out among experiences that have taught her the value of investing in eternity.

One happened during the height of her television career as a star on the ’80s sitcom, “The Facts of Life.”

The other happened after she lost the bulk of her money earned in that career when a Philadelphia property investment, the Texas oil industry and the California housing market tanked.

She said through both situations she learned the value of eternity.

“The only thing that you can invest in here on Earth that also will be in heaven is people,” she said.

Ms. Whelchel spoke Wednesday during the St. Paul Children’s Foundation Fall Luncheon at Willow Brook Country Club.

Almost 250 people attended the event, which serves as a fundraiser for the organization that annually provides food, clothing, pediatric medical and dental care and spiritual support to more than 40,000 children and their families.

Ms. Whelchel began her presentation with a question and answer period, during which she shared about her childhood, her faith, her time on the “The Facts of Life” and “Survivor” and her future.

But the core of her message was about the choice to give and to invest in things of eternal value even when it doesn’t always make sense.

Learning to invest in eternity

After a few years into her show’s nine-year run, Ms. Whelchel, who played the preppy Blair Warner, found herself making a lot of money. During that time, she heard a sociologist talk about the trials of children living in Haiti, and the message so deeply affected her that she decided to give a large portion of her money to help these children. She was so compelled to help that she also decided to sell a lot of her possessions, such as her Porsche and three-bedroom condo to get more funds.

But when she told her managers about her plans, they discouraged her.

“They were a little concerned that I might be overzealous in my desire to sell everything and give it away,” she said.

Their suggestions were for her to continue investing her money and give some of the earnings away.

There were reasons, they told Whelchel, to be more tempered in her generosity. She likely would have children and eventually retire, both of which would require a solid income.

Although those points made sense, Ms. Whelchel felt conflicted. A verse from Luke 12 in the Bible spoke to her, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

With two options at hand, Ms. Whelchel decided not to give away all her money and sell her possessions as she had planned. But within 10 years, the money was all gone anyway, when many of her investments tanked.

She said it was a lesson to trust God in ways that don’t always make sense. It’s not so much that He needed her money for those kids in Haiti, but it could have been used to positively affect those children instead of being lost when investments flopped.

She said some of the best years of her life happened when she lost all of that money. Her family was living on her husband’s pastor salary in a rented house. During that time, she wrote her first book, “Creative Correction,” which was about ideas for disciplining children.

The book sold fairly well, and she had a little extra money for the first time in years. She told God she wanted to handle the money correctly. An opportunity came up that tested her. Would she invest in eternal or temporal things?

‘You can’t out-give God’

When Ms. Whelchel learned of an auction that would feature her pink “The New Mickey Mouse Club” hat with ears from the 1970s television show, she wanted to bid on them.

The blue “The New Mickey Mouse Club” ears that all the 1970s club members wore already had been auctioned, but those didn’t interest her. These, however, were her ears, and she was interested.

As she sat at the computer ready to bid $500 for her ears, a thought came to her, “Store up for yourself treasure in heaven.” She couldn’t ignore it.

But it didn’t make sense. These were just ears. Why would God care about her buying them? Why would He not want her to buy them?

She listened to the thought, though, and deleted the $500 bid before she sent it. She put in a $250 bid instead.

Ms. Whelchel lost the bid. Instead, a collector willing to pay more than $600 got the ears. Ms. Whelchel emailed the winner to tell him congratulations and that he won her ears. He sent her a nice reply telling her he collected television memorabilia, and if she ever wanted to bring her children by his warehouse to see the ears, he would gladly show them off.

Then Ms. Whelchel sent the money she would have spent on the ears to Compassion International, a Christian child sponsorship organization that works to help children living in poverty worldwide.

The story wasn’t over, though. The winner, James, sent her another email a bit later telling her he had something to give her.

The two went to lunch, and while there, he handed her a box with her Mickey Mouse Club ears.

It seems after he had them stored in a box for proper preservation, he loaded them and other items onto his truck and headed out to his warehouse to store them.

But as he picked up the box, a thought came to him, “Maybe these do belong with Lisa’s family.”

It caught him off guard. He had just paid about $600 to buy the ears and hundreds more to preserve them properly.

“God, if that’s you, you’re gonna have to do better than that,” he said.

Within minutes over the loudspeaker where his CD of television theme songs was playing, he heard, “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life, the facts of life.”

That confirmed it. So, he gave the ears to Ms. Whelchel.

“You really can’t out-give God,” she said.

God gave her not just her ears, but her ears preserved in a manner she wouldn’t have even thought of.

“Whatever your ears are to you,” she said. “He cares.”

“God doesn’t always make sense, because His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts,” she said. But his perspective is eternal and that is where our focus should be, she said.

She encouraged those in attendance to continue supporting St. Paul Children’s Foundation and giving as they already have been.

“Your treasure is in heaven,” she said. “Your treasure is with the children you’re helping. You’re changing their lives.”

Twitter: @TMTEmily

Getting to know Lisa

Born in Littlefield, Texas; raised in Fort Worth

Became a Christian at the age of 10. She said the word of God gave her direction and a foundation for her life.

At 12, she moved to California to work as a Mouseketeer on “The New Mickey Mouse Club.”

She declined to have her “Facts of Life” character Blair lose her virginity in the second season because she wanted to be a positive influence for young girls who were watching.

She declined to meet with executives about playing the role of Rachel on “Friends” after reading a script and deciding she wouldn’t be comfortable with the show.

In 2012, as a contestant on “Survivor: Philippines,” where she tied for second, she went for 39 days without showering, washing her hair or using toilet paper.

She’s working on a Hallmark Channel movie “The Mommy Bloggers,” slated for release in May. Her 23-year-old daughter will be in the movie as well.


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