One night twenty years ago I was driving home from my job at Dillard’s department store. I wasn’t looking forward to going home. In fact, I was dreading it. But it was late and I had nowhere else to go.

I was still many miles from home when I heard a distinct voice say, “I am a Father to the fatherless.” At first I thought I’d imagined it, but then it repeated two more times. Then nothing. And I started to cry.

I was twenty-two years old and living at home with my parents and kid sister. My dad and I hadn’t been getting along. We’d never really gotten along–my dad was a difficult man and our home life had always been less than functional. A year before, I had been away at college, but I had sunk into depression and as a result was failing — not just at school, but at life. My dad had come to get me, telling me to come home and rest, promising that things would be different. I wanted to believe him, and I just wanted to rest, so I dropped out of school and moved back home.

Things had been better for a while–about as good as things can get when you’re living with an alcoholic who needs to be in control of everything and everyone around him–but then old patterns began to repeat themselves, and home ceased to be a peaceful place. I became depressed again, and knew I had to get out. It was way past time to move out on my own. But my dad had other plans. He wanted me to stay there and go back to school at the local community college, but I wasn’t yet ready to go back to school, and when I was, I knew I wanted more than the community college had to offer.

So we fought. A lot.

When I heard that voice as I was dreading driving home for what would surely be another round with my dad before I could go to bed, I believed that God was telling me that He saw my situation, and that He was with me, and He would get me through it. I took comfort from that.

And then, a few days later, my dad was driving home from work when his truck veered off the road and hit a bridge abutment. He didn’t survive. Suddenly I was literally fatherless.

Today, as I write this, is the twentieth anniversary of that fateful morning. I remembered that voice, and what it told me, when I received the news, and I’ve thought about it often since then.

And do you know what? God is a father to the fatherless.

It’s taken all of these twenty years for me to come to a place where I can truly relate to Him and trust Him as my perfect Heavenly Father. My earthly dad inflicted a lot of spiritual and emotional scars, but God has been faithful to heal them, one by one. Only recently has He brought me to a place where I’m able to have complete confidence in His love without the shadows of the past casting doubt over my faith.

But more than that, He’s healed my memory of my dad. Of course I still remember what an angry, broken man he was. But I’m able to look back on him, and on our relationship and our time together, through eyes of compassion, and realize that he was broken and hurting, and his ability to love, and to express it, was also broken.

It’s taken twenty years, but I’m finally able to forgive my dad, and to remember the good things about him. That he was a dad who would drop everything to drive 300 miles round trip to collect his hurting daughter and bring her home. That rain or shine, if I was in trouble of any kind, I could always call him to come get me. That he liked to pile the family into the car and go on long Sunday drives and longer road trips. That he was a voracious reader and loved small children and making them laugh and liked to tell off-color jokes. That he was often a difficult customer at restaurants but he was ALWAYS an excellent tipper. That he was a faithful provider, and although we were far from rich, we never did without anything we truly needed or wanted.

It’s taken twenty years, but thanks to my Heavenly Father’s faithfulness and love, I’m finally able to say to my earthly father,

I love you, Dad.

And I miss you.