As I took the old, rusty plug from the knickknack shelf, the memories returned.

As rookie missionaries in Brazil, we had just completed a retreat with 15 seminarians in the interior.

Driving down a deserted dirt road, our engine clunked, then ground to a halt. On inspection we discovered an oily trail snaking its way all the way back to the site of the retreat. Our wounded car had been slowly bleeding to death, the victim of a cruel mechanic who had changed the oil but failed to secure the plug. It was gone.

When we reached town, we needed to replace the plug, add some oil, and try to coax the car back to civilization. We found a store, where the auto parts manager told us, “Sorry, sir, but I haven’t got that part.”

Back in the street, a voice called from behind. It wasn’t the Lord, but He couldn’t have spoken louder in an audible voice. Reaching in the back of his car, a man pulled out a familiar, rusted, old plug. “I live far out of town. I saw this plug on the road. I don’t know why, but I threw it in the back of my car, and forgot about it—until now, when I heard you talking to the parts manager.”

Not only had we found a replacement part—we found our missing plug. Once again, God reminded me of His faithfulness. I felt ashamed for ever doubting. He reminded me that He cares for every detail in our lives and, more than that, I had another memorial of God’s faithfulness.

When people hear the word “memorial” they often think of places like Mount Rushmore or the Washington Monument. Each of these landmarks commemorates highlights in our history and keeps them alive in the national conscience.

For the Christian, memorials commemorate God’s faithfulness and remind us of His interventions on our behalf. As tangible symbols they prod us to recall milestones along life’s highway, moments when God dramatically dissipated the fog and gave us a glimpse of His sovereign care. Memorials rehearse life’s miracles, big and small. God prescribes memorials as antidotes for spiritual amnesia.

I replace the old plug and remove a cancelled check from another cubbyhole. “Daddy, tell me the story again about The Check.” “Honey, Mommy needed $3,000 or she’d have to drop out of college. At the last minute, God gave her even more than she needed. Mommy finished school, we married, and now we’re living happily ever after!”

Who needs memorials? We all do, because our memory banks tend to misplace those incredible times when God intervened in our lives. Memorials jog the memory, drawing us back, inviting us to relive the thrill of cuddling a long-awaited child, or remember the drama of being protected from a near tragedy.

In the Old Testament, symbolic reminders of God’s grace abound. Piles of stone prompted generations to recall the miracle of crossing the Jordan River. Altars built by the patriarchs and the ark of the covenant served as visual aids reminding Israel of God’s gracious deeds on her behalf. The rainbow still reminds us of God’s promise never to flood the entire earth again.

The New Testament perpetuates the role of memorials. Baptism illustrates one’s identification with Christ. The celebration of the Lord’s Supper dramatically recalls Christ’s broken body and shed blood: “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24). We need memorials because we can’t afford to forget.

We also need memorials because they assure us of God’s love and faithfulness today. The same God who healed a child, provided a job, placed groceries at our doorstep or a check in the mailbox still walks with us today. Memorials remind us, “He didn’t bring us this far, to leave us!”

Today, The Check and an oil pan plug occupy their own special cubbyholes as memorials to God’s faithfulness. His faithfulness in the past encourages us to persevere in the present.

How do we create memorials? As our family began brainstorming, we thought of key events in our lives and how God had proved Himself faithful. These we listed on a sheet of paper divided into columns, including the date, event, and its significance. That experience alone revealed to us not only how much God had done, but also how much we had forgotten.

Next, we decided on a strategy for “memorializing” these events. A good memorial should be tangible, easily accessible, and readily associated with the event (not overly abstract). While diaries, journals, and other written records can help commemorate the past, few people consult them with any frequency. Photo albums, audiocassettes, and videotapes have a better track record. Our family especially enjoys putting together a “time capsule” containing the year’s highlights on miniature scrolls and including newspaper headlines, photographs, coins with the current date, and symbolic objects reminding us of key events. We “bury” the time capsule in a corner of the house or yard, to be dug up at a future date.

Copying a model my in-laws had used for years, when we married my wife and I built our own miniature house, using more than 50 empty matchboxes. Each box would represent a year of our married life. On anniversaries we record special events from that year on a tiny scroll and deposit it in our matchbox house. Our memorial house now looks back to 14 years of God’s faithfulness, but also anticipates many more years of blessing ahead.

Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo of Growing Families International introduced us to the concept of a shadow box memorial. The shadow box is a curio cupboard which can be easily purchased at a department store or even made at home. Unlike the matchbox house, which contains written reminders of God’s faithfulness on tiny scrolls, the shadow box contains cubbyholes of varying sizes appropriate for placing small symbolic reminders of your life’s journey. The Ezzos suggest passing on replicas of the family shadow box to your children on their wedding day. It now ranks as our family’s favorite means of recalling a heritage rich with accounts of God’s presence and protection.

The shadow box concept works well in other contexts as well. For example, when our church celebrated its 15-year anniversary, we celebrated with a worship service full of testimonies of God’s faithfulness. Each testimony included a memorial object which was symbolically placed in a large curio cabinet. The shadow box is placed in the church’s foyer as a constant reminder of all God has done.

I am reminded of yet another example of God’s protective care. It had been a long day, and we were all relaxing by watching a video in our home near São Paulo. Keila, our fifth child and still a newborn, lay contentedly on her quilt on the floor. I picked her up to enjoy some “daddy-daughter time,” and we played while watching the program. Then I felt a tickling sensation on my toes, looked, and saw a brightly colored coral snake gliding over my bare foot, then under Keila’s quilt. He was small but very dangerous—especially to an infant.

Today, a small plastic snake lies coiled alongside an old oil plug and The Check—memorials to God’s protective care.

As I carefully returned each object to the shadow box, I couldn’t help but thank God for such a wonderful heritage. To others, these miniatures might seem like junk gathering dust on the shelf. But for my children, my wife, and me they speak of a living God who still works in the lives of His loved ones.