How faith, Alabamians’ generosity brought about the ‘best Christmas’ for this Birmingham-area family
A story of faith in God and trademark Alabama generosity has led one Birmingham-area family to receive the “best Christmas gift” they ever could have asked for.
Jonathan McKinney explained to Yellowhammer News that the tale began to take shape about two months ago, when he and his wife were at their weekly Sunday life group meeting at Oak Mountain Presbyterian Church, where they have been active ever since moving to the area from the Shoals in June of 2014.
On this fateful fall Sunday, the McKinneys shared with the group that their son Jon Andrew, who has special needs, was having trouble with getting up in the middle of the night, which puts him in physical danger because of his condition.
Jon Andrew has Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome (LGS), which is a rare, severe form of epilepsy that begins early in life. McKinney told Yellowhammer News that this presents with his son suffering from multiple seizure types, including grand mal and absence seizures.
Grand mal seizures result in the loss of consciousness, which can lead to serious and even fatal falls. This is why Jon Andrew wears protective headgear during the day. However, nighttime is a different problem, as the boy’s life is at risk anytime he wanders around without protection for his head.
Yet, given his condition, Jon Andrew does not understand this risk and cannot mitigate it himself.
“Jon Andrew is about a 14-month-old developmentally,” McKinney explained. “He’s a 13-year-old trapped in the mind of a baby, really. So, he is non-communicative. We’re still changing diapers and things like that. And that’s not me complaining or anything, that’s just a part of our life.”
And, as babies need cribs and other protection to keep them safe while sleeping, Jon Andrew has special needs of his own for nighttime – specifically, a specialized bed designed to keep him from getting up and wandering in the middle of the night while keeping him comfortable.
However, the necessary type of bed starts at about $10,000 retail, leaving Jon Andrew’s parents feeling “stuck.” They had come up with a temporary mesh-tented bed but knew they needed a long term answer to keep him safe.
Which is why at the Sunday life group meeting this fall, the McKinneys shared their need and prayed earnestly for a solution.
In an immediate reply, their faith payed off. Two members of their life group, Stephen and Anita Jackson, knew the very person for the job: Stephen’s dad, Travis Jackson.
“Little did we know that God would answer our prayer that night,” McKinney said.
Travis has worked in upholstery, woodworking and carpentry the majority of his life. In recent years, and primarily due to his own grandson’s respective special needs, he began to make rehabilitation equipment for other kids, becoming a go-to specialty craftsman for Huntsville Hospital and other hospitals in the state.
When Stephen and Anita shared this need with Travis, he took on the McKinneys project free-of-charge and truly made it his own, just like Jon Andrew was his own.
Travis came over within a week of the life group meeting to meet with the family and discuss their needs. From there, a plan and design for the project was made.
On two sides of the bed, half-inch-thick plexiglass was needed and eventually procured from a company in Pelham. The rest of the materials were gathered by Travis, with Anita’s dad, Tom Davidson, also pitching in some specialty material through his own work.
Through this family’s collective work and Travis’ craftsmanship, what would have cost well over $10,000 only saw the McKinneys paying for materials.
“Mr. Jackson spent, I would say, 20-40 hours over the last couple of months putting this bed together in his shop. And then taking it apart, bringing the pieces to our house and putting it back together again,” McKinney outlined.
He continued, “That was just the thing that was over the top for us: here’s a guy that we did not know – and that did not know us – that because his grandson has special needs and because he’s been touched by other people, other families that have special needs kids, he felt that a part of his personal ministry was to be able to provide us with something like this.”
Just in time to usher in joy for the McKinneys, the bed was completed days before Christmas, with Jon Andrew now able to enjoy newfound bliss during the night. And just like the entire project, the final installation was a family affair, with the McKinneys and multiple members of the Jackson family coming together to help Travis put the pieces in place.
“We got to talk and spend time together and know each other,” McKinney said.
The answer to the McKinneys’ prayers, the Jacksons have built not just a bed, but something that no-one could ever put a price on.
“Jon Andrew is sleeping a lot better, he’s…” McKinney reflected, trailing off as he started beaming thinking of the impact the bed has had. “He outwardly just loves it, smiling and having a big time. He’s really sleeping well, and it’s a huge blessing to our family.”
Not only is it helping potentially save Jon Andrew’s life and aiding his sleep, but the new bed is giving the entire family – the parents and Jon Andrew’s two little brothers – a better night’s sleep and overall peace of mind, too.
“We can sleep a lot better knowing that Jon Andrew is safe,” McKinney advised.
He emphasized that for he and his wife, with their deep faith coming first in life, “this, like everything, was a God thing.”
“This was the best Christmas gift for our family,” McKinney said.
He also stressed that it was not just a function of his and his wife’s own faith but of the Jacksons’, as well. As McKinney detailed, if everyone answered callings and lived out their ministries like Travis, it would feel like Christmas year-round.
“We’re very thankful for Travis and Carolyn Jackson. We’re grateful for Stephen and Anita and their boys. We’re grateful for our life group and our church. We’re grateful for a God who cares about our needs, hears us when we pray, and answers us in His perfect timing,” McKinney said.
Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn