Fill in the Blanks

Thanksgiving season may have just passed, but it would still do all of us good to just stop and fill in the blanks of all the things for which we are truly grateful to God. I know there are those dry, drab, dreary times in life when you can hardly come up with a good thought about giving thanks. On the other hand, there are those moments when it seems your mind is filled with thoughts of gratitude and appreciation, of praise and thanksgiving to God. Your heart seems to be overflowing with feelings that are wonderful about your blessings from heaven, so much so that you can hardly come up with words to describe them.

I think the psalmist was in that second mode when he wrote Psalm 103:1-2 — “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” Then the psalmist goes off in every direction, pointing out the blessings that God had brought in his life. God forgives us. God heals us. God redeems us. God crowns us with lovingkindness and tender mercies. God satisfies us. The psalmist was overwhelmed with all of the good things God had poured out in his life.

Thanksgiving is a great time not only to stop and give thanks, but to fill in the blanks too. To actually jot down the wonder of the things God has brought about in your life. That He has just filled you to overflowing. Maybe, even today, you could find a quiet moment and just fill in some of your own blanks and think about the things and the people God has brought into your life (and about the things you’re grateful are not a part of your life) and just praise God for His goodness.

If I were to fill in some of the blanks of my life, I would begin by thanking God for heritage. I am so blessed by my heritage – my grandparents. I knew all four of my grandparents. My sweet grandmothers. We didn’t live next to them or down the road from them but many miles from them, but it always seemed as though they were a part of our lives. My grandfathers – I have memories of both of them. Sweet and gentle memories, good memories. Not mean, bitter memories, but thankful for the heritage that was passed along to me by my grandparents.

I think about the heritage of my own mom and dad. Growing up in a family with my preacher dad and my preacher’s wife mom, I would learn only later how difficult it is to serve a church and at the same time care for a family, especially a family of five boys. I guess I was grown, married, and been out on my own for a while before I realized how much we did not have. In fact, I look back and realize that sometimes we didn’t have enough of anything except love. A love that brought care and security to a bunch of boys who were growing up and eating their parents out of house and home.

My parents never complained. They never fussed and griped about having to take care of us. It was a positive, hope-filled, “God cares for us and we care for each other” kind of home and today that seems to be more and more a rarity. One of our ladies here at the Baptist Building was telling me about her home when she was growing up. They didn’t have a lot of the things that maybe other folks had and were maybe, by some estimations, poor. Maybe that’s all of us, but she remembered an experience of being at the store with her dad and there in the meat case she saw some meat that she had never seen before. It was steaks, packaged up. She asked her dad, “What is that?” Her dad’s response was something like, “Well, that’s the kind of meat that people have to eat when they can’t afford to have it ground up.” What a beautiful twist, a positive twist, a blessing twist on life. I must say that is the spirit of the heritage in which I grew up.

Another grateful blank that I’d fill in would be for my health. There is no dollar amount that can be put on the values of health, to feel good, to be able to get up and go and do and serve and enjoy life free from pain or restrictions that keep you from enjoying the moments of life. There are times when I almost feel guilty for being so healthy. I can only pause to say, “Thank You, God, for I am undeserving.” Sure, I have had the experience of broken things in life. The blocked and bruised things of life but at the same time, those things have been only momentary and would heal up and the pains would go away and the ability to get up and enjoy life would once again be there before me.

Another blessing blank I would fill in is home. My own home. Not just the house, but the home. Soon, Shirley and I will celebrate our 54th wedding anniversary and oh, when we look back over all those years, what a blessing God has provided us in our home. Three children who have blessed us. Their companions who have joined in blessing us. Eight grandchildren that have come to be a part of the home that God has given us. I could not leave out filling in the big blank of life that would be our home. I see so many homes that are in chaos, disharmony, hurts, bitterness, distress. The whole concept of home seems to be under attack and in disarray and so, grateful from the bottom of my heart, I say, “Thank You, Lord, for allowing me to fill in a blessing blank with the joys that You have brought in our home.”

The next-to-last blank of thankfulness I would fill in would be heaven, the hereafter. I have so many friends and family in heaven and I look forward to seeing them again. Over the years as a pastor, I have been called on at times to be a part of funerals. A closing of this earthly life and the celebration of the opening of a new, eternal life. Great friends and followers of Jesus who I look forward to being with again. Most recently, my brothers and I and our families celebrated the home going of the first of our circle of five Futral boys to go on to be with the Lord. To say the least, it was a bittersweet occasion but in truth, while we recognize this life on earth is not forever, it is forever in the land of feasts and provisions that only God could give us in His new heaven. It was there that we focused on our brother being with the Lord.

It was a somewhat sobering moment for me and I think for all of us, because we had never lost anyone in that family circle, but now we have. It brings into focus how we need to celebrate life here together and because of the provisions of Christ, we can celebrate the provisions of life beyond here. I fill in the blank for so many of the people I have known in this journey who have already passed through the gates where we will one day be gloriously reunited again.

Finally, this Thanksgiving I fill in the blanks and this last one — eternal one — is the hereafter. God’s wonderful heaven. “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Ps. 103:1).

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Jim Futral

Executive Director-Treasurer