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Oh, to be loved as Dennis Williams is loved!
A week or so ago on a Sunday afternoon, two women I don’t know knocked on my door.
They said they knew me, or at least knew me through my writing and somehow thought I could help them find their friend Dennis.
They knew enough about me to deduce that I owned my own home and searched the county property appraiser’s website to find my address so they could come and see me in person because they were that desperate to find their friend who was missing.
Since they only looked partially crazy, and they assured me that they don’t normally stalk people - I was their first - I let them in my house.
Their friend Dennis was missing and they were frantic to find him. They would’ve done anything to find someone to help them.
Then they described him: He’s a bit scary, like an alligator. When he opens his mouth, you think he might bite you. With a loud and thunderous voice, people often think he’s mean. He rushes into a room like Superman. He’s a bulldozer and socially awkward.
He doesn’t sound lovable and cuddly, but these women seemed to love him. Tears welled in their eyes as they continued to tell me about him.
Before Dennis disappeared he volunteered at the same local outreach ministry where the women volunteer. He was there every single day the ministry was open, arriving a half-hour early and staying until they made him go home - except, he didn’t have a home, at least not one with traditional walls and such.
He lived in a structure that has a tree growing in the middle of it, and he let anyone who needed a home stay there, too.
He has nothing but shares everything.
At the ministry, if you asked Dennis to “clear out” one end of the donations room, he would, the women said, although you might find everything from that end in piles at the other end.
He took it upon himself to make sure all the trash cans were clean. No dirty trash cans on Dennis’ watch, no sir.
The women, no longer even partially crazy, continued to tell me about Dennis and about how it wasn’t like him to go missing other than after an occasional night of too much drinking.
Then one of the women said, “Initially, when you hear about or see Dennis’ situation, your heart might yearn to help ‘fix’ such a man, but quite to the contrary, Dennis doesn’t need to be fixed.’”
Sometimes Dennis will find something - a ceramic angel, a certain snack he knows you like - and hold it out to you and say, “Here, you need this.”
The woman standing in my entryway, with the passionate desperation that can only be fueled by love said, “Dennis possesses the one thing the rest of us can only hope for - a heart of love for others. His words are true: ‘Here, you need this.’”
Then she said his friend, “Hobo Joe,” had recently died in a tragic fire and Dennis somehow doesn’t have the skills or the capacity or the language necessary to process his feelings. That maybe that’s why their developmentally disabled friend was missing. Maybe he grabbed his backpack and just took off, trying to escape his confusing feelings.
(Really, don’t we all do that one way or another?)
Before the women left my house they said, “He is our Dennis and we love him - we need him.”
The next day I worked on the story for the newspaper and by the end of the week, mostly thanks to the sheriff’s office, Dennis was found safe and sound helping at an outreach ministry at a church in Tallahassee, hundreds of miles away.
But the story doesn’t end here. In talking with the pastor at the church in Tallahassee - how he got that far, the pastor didn’t know. But she did know that he had been “their” Dennis years before. He would show up at their mission outreach every day, all gruff and thunderous and bulldozer-like, and his awkward, sometimes annoying love transformed them.
When he disappeared one day several years ago, they, too, filed a missing person’s report and worried and prayed and cried until they learned of
When I told my boss the whole story she said, “I want to be that loved!”
And you know what? We are that loved. We’re all a Dennis, broken and imperfect, and Jesus came searching for us - all the way to the Cross.
Nancy Kennedy is the author of “Move Over, Victoria - I Know the Real Secret,” “Girl on a Swing,” and her latest book, “Lipstick Grace.” She can be reached at 352-564-2927, Monday through Thursday, or via email at email@example.com.