A Prayer for Keeping Family Memories Alive
By Liz Curtis Higgs
Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” Exodus 20:12 (NIV)
Every time we visited my in-laws’ home, overflowing with family heirlooms, my mother-in-law reminded me, “Someday all this will be yours.”
I always smiled, assuring her that day was very far away.
But that day finally came. My mother-in-law, Mary Lee, and then my father-in-law, Harold, passed away one after the other, leaving little time for our hearts to recover.
The certainty that Mary Lee and Harold are at peace in their heavenly home is a great comfort to our family. But in the midst of our grief, we still had the matter of their earthly home to deal with. Not just the house itself, but all the stuff inside it.
My husband is an only child, which means no arguing with siblings over who gets what. But it also means everything is his, along with the burden of deciding where it’s all going to go.
Some items were easily handled. Harold’s collection of canvas belts — all 55 of them — were donated to a local thrift store. The bird clock that tweeted on the hour ended up at a friend’s house. Two karaoke machines went to Goodwill.
When we watched the home inventory video my in-laws had recorded, I got teary seeing Mary Lee on camera and hearing Harold’s voice behind the lens, as together they walked through the house, describing their most prized possessions and the stories behind them.
There was Great-great-grandmother’s big kitchen spoon, nearly rusted through, and Aunt Sudie’s wooden butter paddle. “These things ought to stay in the family,” Mary Lee said firmly, her accent from the eastern hills of Kentucky punctuating each word.
I was honored to be entrusted with such treasures, and I knew right where I’d display them in our old farmhouse. The oak desk inherited from Aunt Punch would fit nicely in our guestroom, and even the low chair “where Grandmother sat to trim her toenails” would find a worthy spot.
But as the video continued, the refrain “This should stay in the family” began to weigh on my heart. Glass candy dishes. Painted vases. Place settings for twelve. Formal silverware. Kitchen flatware. Table linens.
“I remember my grandmother pouring milk out of this pitcher,” Mary Lee said fondly, pointing to something she clearly cherished. I confess, the simple plate for their wedding cake was dearer to me, though I was hard-pressed to think of where I would put it.
Mary Lee waved her hand across her collection of antique salt cellars. “I don’t know what you’re going to do with these when we’re gone.” I sighed, agreeing with her completely.
What were we going to do with it all?
We already had enough of our own stuff, and had toyed with the idea of downsizing. How could we possibly incorporate their furnishings too? The bedroom set? The dining room table with matching chairs?
Still, these were my husband’s parents. We loved them and wanted to honor their memory, just as the Bible urges us, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) Did that mean bringing everything they loved into our home?
As I watched my in-laws on the video, sharing tender recollections from their past, I realized what they were truly saying: “Keep our family memories alive.” That’s the point. It’s never about the stuff, not in any generation.
So, we’re choosing each keepsake with care, knowing wherever their household goods land, we’ll always have the far richer inheritance they passed on to us: their hard-earned wisdom, their faithfulness to their marriage vows, and their deep and abiding love for God.
Heavenly Father, we’re grateful for the generations who’ve gone before us and even more grateful for their enduring influence on our children. Help us honor their memories in ways that matter. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.