Welcome to today’s interview! When I learned that the intrepid and multi-talented Wendy L. Cunningham Barnes was also an advocate for the special needs community, I was more excited than ever to interview her. As a social worker who has spent the last 10 years working with this community, her story resonated with me. So, I invite you to settle in and meet a dynamic and driven woman of God.
Hi Wendy! I’m thrilled to have you with us today. Can you start things off by telling us a little about yourself?
I was born and raised in Chicago, just outside of Englewood, the oldest of two girls. I am a wife, mom of three children, entrepreneur in a direct sales cosmetics company, talk show host of The Wendy Lyfe, and cohost of JW/Fuzion radio show with my husband, James.
What is your educational and spiritual background?
I have some college where majored in biology. I have always had a love for God and His presence. Growing up Catholic, my fondest memories from childhood was just being able to sit in the church and talk to the Lord. What I loved about the Catholic Church is that it was always open, no matter when you went there. I loved that feeling of being close to God in His house. While I’m still learning about the bible, I’ve always felt that the Lord was with me; guiding, supporting me. Going through a difficult childhood and early adulthood, I have always trusted that He was going to bring me the through. Having two special needs children, and saying goodbye to one too soon, really tested of my faith. My faith never wavered, knowing God’s plan was that I come out stronger.
How did you choose your method of communicating your message?
I actually did not choose my method of communicating. Originally, I started out doing YouTube videos with a desire to create a community of people who have special needs, or special needs caregivers. I was blessed to have met the family that owns Road 2 Eternity production company. They saw something in me that made them pursue wanting me to have my own talk show dedicated to the special needs community. Then, my husband was given the opportunity to have a radio show and wanted me to be a part of that experience. James and I work very well together, so I jumped at that opportunity! I am enjoying what God is revealing to us and allowing us to do with these platforms.
There remains a lot of work to do to educate people about the special needs community. What do you think about that, and what message would you share with readers?
Wow, that’s a big one! I believe that there is so much work to do because that is not a part of your average person’s experience. Myself included, if you don’t have a family member with a special-needs, or someone who is close to you who has a special need, then that’s not something that you really think about. My prayer is that with the television show, it becomes more of a day-to-day conversation with people, whether they have experience with a special-needs person or not. The more we talk about it openly, the more it’s not so alien to those who don’t have that experience. The more we expose and bring light to different people in the special needs community, the more accepted we are. People don’t often know how to act, or what to say when around someone with a special need. My hope is that with the show, our community becomes more accepted into the general community.
I notice that churches aren’t always equipped to receive families with special needs children and adults. Have you noticed this, and what would you say to the Church to help address this?
Again, churches are full of people, for the most part that don’t have a day-to-day experience with those in the special-needs community. It would never occur to someone in opening a church to address the needs of someone who is disabled. My prayer is that the show will expose people from all walks of life, including the church to understand the special needs community and their needs. Also, as a community, we need to have our voices heard about what our needs actually are. If we don’t speak for ourselves, how can we expect the general community at large to respond? We need to understand the reality that anyone of us, at any point in our lives can become disabled. Once we understand this, treating our community with compassion and respect becomes easier.
What purpose do you think God has for your work?
My experience as a mom of three children, 2 with special-needs, I have a perspective that will not only help those with a disability, but will help those who are caring for someone. I’ve also lost a child. So many people are quietly grieving. I hope to give them a strength and a voice to continue their story by talking about their child. My prayer is that by hearing my story, parents and caregivers will feel empowered to stay strong in their work, and not feel so alone.
Who/what are your biggest influences?
My children are my biggest influences. Having special needs children taught me an appreciation for life’s little wins. My daughter, Paige, wasn’t expected to live past the age of two but exceeded that by 13 years. Even in her death, I had to find a strength to press on as mom to my boys. It was necessary for me to teach my boys that you have to keep living. My youngest son, Christian, wasn’t expected to even be born. Once born, they didn’t expect him to be able to lift his head. Now 15, he easily lifts his head, rolls, pivots and has the most beautiful laugh I’ve ever heard. My oldest son, Matthew, had taught me grit, patience and endurance. Being sandwiched between two disabled siblings, I had to parent him in a way that made him feel special. I had to be creative in giving him the best childhood I could in our unusual, and often trying, family dynamic. I had the task of teaching him, by example, that we need to keep our heads up and continue to rock out this life in honor of our angel Paige.
Through taping The Wendy Lyfe, I get so much inspiration from the special needs community, as a whole. I am blessed to meet some incredible special-needs people who are doing amazing things despite their disability. Spending time with them takes away all of your complaining and excuses of why you aren’t accomplishing the goals that you have set for yourself.
Do you have another job? Other hobbies or interests?
I have been a consultant in a direct sales company for 23 years. Being a mom of three children, two of them being special-needs, took a lot of my time. I was a single mom for 13 years. Having this business has allowed me the freedom and flexibility to be a mom, but also have a vehicle that allowed me to meet my family’s financial needs. When I am not working, I enjoy reading, movies, walking, hanging out with my husband and my boys, and spending time with friends.
Can you tell us about your future goals?
First and foremost, I will continue to trust God’s guidance on my Lyfe and follow where he leads me. I endeavor to bring more awareness to the general community about the special-needs community and their needs. In doing this, I hope to also bring the special needs community closer together to share resources and ideas that will help one another. I plan to use my talk show, The Wendy Lyfe and our annual Paige Awards program to further this awareness. My husband, James and I are working to build a strong audience for our radio show, JW/Fuzion. When we started our show, it was to be broadcast twice a month. We just were asked to make it a weekly program. That’s very exciting! The Wendy Lyfe is set to stream in February on Ultimate Faith Television Network which streams via Roku. The 2nd annual Paige Awards will be this year in November. We will begin planning and discussing award recipients.
Where can readers find you?
You can find me on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat as TheWendyLyfe, and my website.
You can find our radio show, JW/Fuzion, on www.artistfirst.com and YouTube. We are also on all social media as JW/Fuzion. Check us out!
Wendy, I am so happy you shared your story with us today. I pray for God’s continued blessing on you, your family, and the projects He’s placed in your hands. Readers, please leave Wendy a message below or contact her on her social media platforms.
Blessings to you all!