Fall · Thanksgiving

Building a Family Altar of Memories: How We Maintain Gratitude with a Family Memory Jar


Our family has kept a memory jar ever since our oldest turned one. We’ve used it to collect fond memories and milestones within our family throughout each year. Every Thanksgiving we pull out all of the tiny pieces of paper from our jar and read them aloud as we trek the long car ride to Chicago to visit family. The jar now sits on a family heirloom that was handed down to me from my Grandma Rosalie. This place has somewhat become our own family altar of memories and traditions.

We’ve followed similar practices of writing things down when it comes to other holiday traditions around here. One Easter the kids recorded their sins on smooth stones only to find their baskets empty on Easter morning. For Christmas we’ve read the  Sparkle Box  and recorded the gifts that we’ve given to Jesus to honor Him on His birthday.

I have a hard time remembering things if I don’t take the time to write them down. Isn’t this true for you? I write and doodle on every piece of paper that I can find. I’m always jotting down new ideas and lists as soon as they come to me. If I don’t, forget it!

I’m also very much a visual and hands on learner. Anything that is tied to something tangible helps me better understand what I’m trying to learn or achieve. I guess I’ve always been this way. I fill my home and surroundings with literal objects that serve as reminders of my personal experiences of God’s presence in my life.

This memory jar was an idea that came from a story in the book of Samuel. Samuel had used stones as a memorial when God’s people wanted to remember His goodness and faithfulness. 1 Samuel 7:12 says that when God enabled the Israelites to defeat the Philistines, the Prophet Samuel “took a stone and … named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’”


Life is happening right before our very eyes. We have constant demands and distractions right in front of us that make it hard to really see. This idea has become a way for us to remember what God is doing in our own lives.

So what exactly do we place in our memory jar? Well, we like to collect both buffet and breadcrumb moments. We jot down all of the times that a new tooth fell out or a new skill was learned. We write down all of the vacations that we took or the bands that we saw in concert. These are those so-called buffet moments.

We also make room for the breadcrumb moments. These are those small moments that happened over time that eventually formed a transformation within us. It’s witnessing obedience in our children. It’s telling the truth when we could have lied. It’s choosing to take responsibility when we could have passed the blame. All of these moments make it into the jar.

If you want to know more about how I came up with breadcrumb and buffet moments, check out my other Thanksgiving blog post about feasting here.

Satan wants to kill and destroy. It’s as simple as that. It’s not just the simple spills that happen over the dinner table that destroy us either.  It’s the cancer that won’t stop spreading. It’s the baby that was never born. The bill that couldn’t get paid. It’s the relationship on the brink of divorce.

Samuel was seeing the goodness in the everyday moments, big and small. He was recognizing them and celebrating them. Consider creating your own family altar of memories so you can truly remember the good when life starts to look grim. You will have a visual reminder of all of those breadcrumb and buffet moments along the way.

When the world tells us to lose hope, let’s rejoice instead. Let’s follow Jesus by practicing the discipline of celebration. Hallelujah! I pray that God would reveal all of the big and little resurrections that you’ve experienced throughout your journey in 2018 and beyond.

In what ways does your family maintain the “gratitude attitude” each day?

Looking for a simple craft/devotion idea at your next bible study or church gathering? Consider creating a memory jar during the season of Thanksgiving.

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