From the Bottom of my Heart

At our Thanksgiving table, as so many families do, we go around before we eat to acknowledge what each of us is grateful for. I always got teary when I spoke because the memories would flood back one over the other, making it impossible to list all the gifts from those I hold dear. Even the hardest years have moments of light (and bold-faced names!) to remember.

This year I would like to thank the thousands of people who came to The God Box Project–whether through the book or the play or the app–particularly those who hosted events so that we could give back to their charities and the theaters who shared space generously for a good cause. This year was particularly special due to the leadership and generous spirit of so many. Thanks to Gina Groch, formerly principal of St. Charles Borromeo in Port Charlotte, Florida. (Will be performing for Gina again at her new school St. Ann’s in Naples on Jan.28!). February brought me to Atlanta, the day after the big ice storm for a special reading for Barbara Bonapfel’s women’s group of St. James UMC Retreat. And March came in like a lion, thanks to Lily Safani and the Gilda’s Club NYC show at the fabulous Cherry Lane Theater in NYC followed by four shows in a row. The first was pulled together by the beloved late Mike Prendergast, one of his last efforts to support scholarships for Cardinal Dougherty students who now attend Bishop McDevitt HS. That show was held at Arcadia University’s Theater, thanks to president Steve Finley and later that day, I performed the first of three shows in honor of late Sr. Alice Edward Strogen SSJ, longtime chaplain on the oncology floor of Childrens’ Hospital of Philadelphia (at Arcadia, at Saint Joseph’s University Bluett Theater and then at the Kimmel Center’s Innovation Studio in Philadelphia.) Huge hugs to Rachel Biblow, Stroge’s boss and forever friend. Later that spring, I staged another show for the Cancer Support Community, this one hosted by CSCNJ, thanks to the marvelous Amy Sutton at the Bickford Theater in Morristown, NJ and then a special event run by Dina Murray for the St. Andrew’s Home and School Association in Lawrenceville, NJ and a huge event at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Doylestown, PA with the leadership of Janice Perry. During the summer, our performances at the Edinburgh Fringe in Scotland brought needed dollars to MacMillan Cancer Support in the UK. The fall brought me to New Hope, PA to St. Martin of Tours Church for an amazing reading thanks to Pamela Gray and to Harrisburg to Bishop McDevitt HS to support the Sisters of St. Joseph Retirement Fund, (shoutout to Sr. Elizabeth Ferguson SSJ!) and then to Villanova U for Robin Cohen who heads the Sandy Rollman Ovarian Cancer Fund. Finally, I ended the fall tour at the hospice conference sponsored by Barnabas Health, run by the spectacular Mary Murray.

If you have read througChildrens God Boxesh these names–and believe me, there are many more!– you may not remember them but I can never forget. This year, thanks also to the stellar work of our director Martha Wollner, lighting designer Kia Rogers, video designer Chris Kateff and production coordinator Nidia Medina,  the God Box Project passed the $250,000 in total funds raised since we launched in spring 2012. If we were at a Thanksgiving table together, by now we would be on to dessert. My dessert? The joy of sharing my family’s story with so many and being able to pay my mother’s love forward…with so much more to come. Check out the events calendar for the winter/spring 2015 tour. Love is all around us! (and please write to me if your community and/or charity would like to book the show. Here for you!

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Still Hearing my Dad

One of the most beautiful lines in Alice McDermott’s newest book “Someone” traces a daughter’s relationship with her Dadphoto Dad barn: “with my heart pinned to my father’s sleeve.” Stopped me in my tracks. That’s how I loved my Dad.  Since dancing on his shoes as a girl, I never stopped following in his footsteps, as I did in this photo taken when Dad was 88. I cherish his memory.

Ray Finlayson always knew what to say to his only daughter.


How many teenagers despair in the mirror, dreading they will never measure up?  Dad lifted my downcast face and whispered, “You will be willowy.”

He founded my independence. “No matter what you choose to do, we’ll love you just the same.” He unselfishly told me to live my life, not his or Mom’s.

“Give ‘em hell, Harry!” he’d yell to me before a big presentation.  With Truman’s battle cry, Dad urged me to speak my mind, even if it was what others didn’t want (or expect) to hear.

And as Dad watched me over-work or over-worry, he’d gently ask: “Why don’t you put your feet up?” Advocate of balance before we called it that.


But Dad also knew what NOT to say. He never said, Why didn’t you try harder? Or, What’s wrong with you? Or, Why aren’t you more like her?” He raised me on his high hopes and his promise of home no matter what. He was my hero who never asked for applause or credit. He made me laugh but never made me cry. Until I lost him.


His words I most miss are those I still hear if I close my eyes. “You’re my girl.” Yes, I am, Daddy. Always will be. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. Thank you for what you said…and didn’t.



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The little book that just wants to help

Page from bookOver the past two plus years, one of the most delightful things about “The God Box” book is its way of bringing comfort to people it has never even met. The entire God Box Project started that way, when I wrote an article for Real Simple Magazine in November 2010 and I started to hear from readers who were touched by it. Even now, after a performance, someone will approach me with a torn page from that issue because the piece ‘brought  back’ their own mother or because they had started a God Box after reading it. But the true heart of this project is my Mom Mary Finlayson. She’s the one who just wanted to help others and felt that tucking a message into her God Box would bring some measure of joy or hope or relief to family, friends and even strangers who never knew. Someone wrote to me recently, “I’ve read and re-read portions of the book that gave me particular comfort and I will continue to apply hot compresses of Mary Finlayson on my bruised soul, because now I have a model for what unconditional love looks like.  I hope you don’t mind if I adopt your mother as my spiritual guide.  She seems to have plenty of love to go around, and maybe she won’t mind throwing her beneficence over another stray.” So now “The God Box”  is like a mini-Mary, finding its way into other hands and hearts. And in a few days, it will find its way across the ocean. The book has been set free. Will you find it?

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What Makes Mom “Mom”

Sometimes our mother’s quirks are what makes them so memorable. Here is one of my Mom memories. What little odd things does or did your Mom do?

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Remember to remember Mom

What do you wish you told your mother? I feel that sometimes we were better at disclosing our hearts when we were little. No holds barred–just pure love and gratitude. With Mother’s Day coming, what do you want to say to your Mom?

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Touched by an Angel

This weekend, I pay tribute to Sister Alice Edward Strogen, SSJ, longtime chaplain on the oncology ward of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. She died over a year and a half ago and though we never met, I can never forget her. And I promised I would bring the show to the aid and comfort of the patient families she so dearly loved. On March 9, 10 and 11, I will be performing “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story” in Philadelphia theaters in her honor. We will dedicate all ticket proceeds to a Tribute Fund in her name to support Spiritual Care services at CHOP. I have only one regret: that she will not be there to see it. But then again…surely she will. It’s a chance to give back a little to a woman who gave her life to love.

Here are details of the shows:  Tickets available at the door while supplies last.

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Losing Your Mary

Christmas is softening New York City…literally. A dusting of snow has cheered even the crustiest among us who can’t help but whisper, ‘Isn’t it beautiful?’

But the sparkle of new fallen snow can cloak feelings that are sharper this time of year…the keen edge of missing those we’ve loved and lost.

I received this touching letter today from a God Box reader, a woman who lost her Mary too.

Dear Mary Lou,

   I just finished reading your book The God Box. It really touched my heart in a special way. I lost my own mother, also named Mary two years ago.  My nickname for her was Marmie too. She was a devoted Catholic who reminds me of your mom with her continual prayers. I always had her praying for me – I thought her prayers worked better then mine! We were also best friends like you and your mom. What’s uncanny is they had the same blood disorder. I watched my own mother go through the same lab draws, blood transfusions and chemotherapy as your mom. Your book really helped me to know I’m not alone in the pain of losing your best friend who in turn is your mother. It helped me continue to grieve. Thank you so much.

God bless you!


Dallas, Texas


Enjoy this lovely season but please remember to look out for those in your life who are feeling a little lost or left behind in the bustle. There are never enough hugs. No matter how many Christmases go by.

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September 12: National MPN Awareness Day


I know my Mom never thought she would see the day that her rare blood cancer actually had its own DAY, but today, September 12 is National MPN Awareness Day dedicated to the disease that she lived with for 20 years. Mom had mylefibrosis which is one of the three blood cancers designated as MPN (myeloproliferative neoplasms). I am grateful that the Cancer Support Community is partnering with the MPN Coalition to help patients and families deal with these mysterious and little known cancers. Mom would be glad, that’s for sure. More information here if you’d like to learn more and help.

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Always Your Girl

Tomorrow would have been my Dad’s 95th birthday. Ray Finlayson died April 20, 2010 so he had a long life of love and joy. But we made a big deal out of every birthday. Dad was so fun to treat because he asked for nothing. I can remember handing him a present and a card and he would set the card aside because the words inside were what mattered more to him, not the gifts. But he would take the box and rub his hands together in anticipation and he’d pull the ribbon and gently release the tape and paper and lift the shirt or the sweater or whatever out of the box and say, “This is just beautiful…I really needed this!” He loved everything we gave him, even though after his death, I found a few of those beautiful shirts still in their plastic, waiting for the right occasion, I suppose. But among his things, I also found dozens and dozens of my cards, in little girl handwriting all the way through the last years.

Dad would then open his birthday card, one I had labored to choose, since Dad cards sometimes lacked the depth of what I felt for him. I always wrote long notes on top of the printed lyrics, always telling him how proud I was to be his daughter, how I treasured our special dad/daughter bond and how I would love him forever.” There, I’ve said it again. Happy birthday, Daddy. Always your girl.


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You Don’t Have to “Get Over It”

Last week I read a beautiful piece in the Sunday New York Times, written by author and psychiatrist Mark Epstein. His article, “The Trauma of Being Alive” began with his words to his 88 year old mother who was still distraught over losses in her life.  She said, “’You’d think I would be over it by now’…speaking of the pain of losing my father, her husband of almost 60 years. ‘It’s been more than four years, and I’m still upset.’”

Epstein wrote “Grief needs to be talked about. When it is held too privately it tends to eat away at its own support.  ‘Trauma never goes away completely,’ he told his mother. ‘It changes perhaps, softens some with time, but never completely goes away. What makes you think you should be completely over it? I don’t think it works that way.’ There was a palpable sense of relief as my mother considered my opinion.”

I wanted to share this with all of you who write to me about the loss in your life or who come up to me after a performance to cry long-held tears for someone you miss. So often, an audience member will apologize for crying in my arms. There’s nothing to be sorry for.  While we get through loss, we don’t necessarily get over it. We grow stronger. We find ways to remember and to focus on the good. Our culture seems to expect to just move on, with a stiff upper lip that doesn’t tremble at the mention of a loved one’s name. And if you can do that, wonderful. But for those times when that ache comes over us, it’s helpful to accept that sadness as part of life. It just means that we are human, that we love deeply, and that we still honor those who loved us.

If you are interested in learning more, Epstein’s upcoming book is called  “The  Trauma of Everyday Life”.

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  • "What a beautiful and profoundly human book....I will keep The God Box in my heart for a long, long time."
  • "A beautiful story of love, faith and family. It reads like an intimate, familiar prayer."
  • "Mary Lou Quinlan shares her mother’s handmade and heartfelt gift of how to persist, believe and move forward with joy."
  • "The courage and wisdom from the messages left in her mother’s God Box will inspire you to create a God Box of your own."
  • "Mary Lou Quinlan has told the story of her mother in a way that entertains, moves and inspires. The thoughts about life and values will stick with you forever."
  • "A wonderful legacy…Keeping a God Box is an incredibly moving and hopeful ritual that we should all consider adding into our daily lives."
  • "In the slips of paper that carry this sweet story forward, we can see the love in our own families and the great possibilities of simple faith."

The God Box App is shiny new and ready to welcome your cares

September 27, 2023
by Mary Lou Quinlan

Since The God Box book was published in the spring of 2012, so many readers have told me that they started their own God Boxes. I love hearing stories of children creating God Boxes and married couples joining their prayer and cares in a family box. (And my mother would be thrilled!)  A 'real' God box is a constant reminder that we are not in control and that letting go is the first step to finding comfort, hope and relief for life's worries. But did you know that many thousands have gone virtual with their God boxes? To help the many busy ...

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