A thief sneaked into Jean's house and stole her peace of mind. When God asked her to bless his family, could she do what felt impossible?
When Jean Huffman was a 16-year-old girl living in northeast Alabama, Ellis Whigham, the love of her life, slipped a ring on her finger. Ellis told Jean that he loved her and wanted to marry her. They thought about driving over the state line into Georgia, where no one would ask questions about her age, but Jean's father convinced them to wait.
Jean turned 18 on a Thursday. They married the following Saturday, and Ellis gave Jean a wedding band to match the engagement ring she had worn on her finger for two years. It wasn't an expensive set, but it meant the world to Jean.
Jean and Ellis had two daughters. They settled in the area of Fort Smith, Oklahoma, when the girls were young. Their life together was a good one. But in August 2009, the unthinkable happened. Ellis, then 66, was killed during a freak accident at the airport where he worked. After almost five decades of married life, Jean found herself a widow.
A HEARTBREAKING THEFT
Jean stayed in her home outside the town of Poteau, working for a small legal office. Poteau, the seat of Le Flore County on Oklahoma’s eastern edge, is a small community of less than 10,000 people, but it suits Jean. "I don't like a big city—I've had enough of those over the years," she says.
Jean's youngest brother, James, moved in with her. He worked a night shift in Fort Smith and usually slept during the day while Jean worked in town.
One day in 2012, James woke to the alarming sight of five police officers—guns drawn—inside the house. The house had been robbed.
The man who broke into the house was gone—but the damage was done. Only three years had gone by since Ellis' death, and Jean was still trying to come to grips with not having him by her side. The burglary upset her equilibrium even more.
"I felt like my peace of mind had been stolen from me," she says.
Even though the perpetrator, a man with a lengthy history of petty theft, was arrested and imprisoned, Jean still didn't feel safer. She had an alarm system installed and put at the gate at the end of her driveway. She even got a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
"I have a .38 special that goes with me," she shares, "and I don't like that. I don't like feeling that I need to carry a gun."
Perhaps worst of all, the man had taken Jean's original wedding set—the engagement and wedding bands Ellis had given her so many years before.
"I couldn't get that back," she remembers. "That's what bothered me the most."
THE ANGEL TREE PROGRAM
Last Christmas, Jean's church participated in Prison Fellowship's Angel Tree® Christmas program. Jean has a tradition of helping others at Christmas, so she volunteered to purchase a gift. The program coordinator wrote Jean's name down on a list and handed her a packet of information about a 6-year-old girl. Jean took it and went home.
That evening, in the solitude of her home, she opened the envelope. She pulled out a piece of paper and started reading about the little girl for whom she would purchase a gift. Her hobbies. Her interests. Her family.
Then she read the name of the child's incarcerated father, and she felt like someone had slapped her across the face. It was the name of the man who had been in her house while her brother slept … the man who had taken her wedding set … the man who had stolen her peace of mind.
Her thoughts began to fly. I can't do this, she said to herself. I'll call the church secretary and ask to switch children.
But a heavy weight settled on Jean's heart. She couldn't shake the feeling that God had given her this child for a reason—that no matter what the father had done, the child was not at fault. But Jean's own pain was still so raw. Would it make any difference who served the child, as long as she got a gift?
'OK, GOD, I CAN DO THIS'
For a long while, Jean paced through the house, wrestling with her feelings.
Finally, she sat down, tears on her cheeks as she came to a decision. "OK, God," she prayed. "I can do this. This little girl doesn't deserve to be punished for something that her father did."
Using the information provided by Angel Tree, Jean reached out to the little girl's grandmother—the mother of the man who robbed her house—to find out what size clothing she should buy. The grandmother recognized Jean's name.
"My son was the man who robbed your house, wasn't he?" she asked softly.
"Yes, ma'am, he was," said Jean.
The grandmother apologized on her son's behalf. Both women cried.
A GIFT OF LOVE
Jean went shopping for the little girl's Christmas gift. She was only required to buy one item, but she admits she "exceeded it because [she] was having so much fun shopping for a little girl." She hadn't had a little girl to shop for since her daughters grew up—and gave her five grandsons. So, she filled her cart with some frilly dresses just right for a 6-year-old. Hair ribbons. Soft pajamas. Art supplies. Then she wrapped them and affixed a tag with a message from the little girl’s father: "Although I'm Unable To Be There By Your Side At Least I'd Able To Send My Love. I Love You … Love, Daddy." The little girl's family was unable to make it to the Angel Tree Christmas party at Jean's church, but Jean drove out and delivered the gifts to their home a dozen miles away.
"She was a beautiful, sweet girl," says Jean. Excitedly, the little girl took the gifts and gave Jean a hug. The mother, too, was appreciative. She took a picture of Jean and her daughter together.
"You didn't have to bring the gifts out here," she said.
"I wanted to be sure she got it," replied Jean. "So, here I am."
GOD TAKES CARE OF US
Having brought the joy of Christmas to the family of the man who robbed her, Jean got back in her car and took the road back to Poteau. And her heart was a little bit lighter.
"The fact of what he did still hurts," says Jean, "and it probably always will to an extent. But God takes care of us."
And she bears no ill will to the man who robbed her. "I don't know how long [that little girl's] dad is going to be in prison. I don't know what his sentence was. Hopefully, he'll maybe get his life straightened and get out, so he can have some time with her."
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