You CAN go home again

In “The God Box” I wrote about my beloved Dad, Ray Finlayson. I only wish he could see what I have discovered– the grave of Dad’s great- great grandparents Alexander Finlayson and Margaret MacAllester in the far, far north of Scotland. I walked the street where they lived on the edge of the North Sea and imagined Margaret scanning the water each night for Alexander, a ship’s pilot on the rocky coastline. I do believe she was watching out for me too because St. Peter’s Church where they were married and finally laid to rest– now only ruins from the 1200s– had been closed for the past six years. We planned just to peer through the locked iron gate. It reopened for the first time the day before we got there. I walked into the churchyard and straight to this stone as if they called me over.  I was so grateful to finally find them. But my father in law Tom Quinlan said, “Oh no, it is they who are happy. They have been waiting a long, long time for you.”

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Kitchen Duty for Dad

Today is Father’s Day, one of the first sunny days in a month of rain. But I am indoors, cleaning the kitchen, the way Dad would. I decided that would be the way to honor him this year.

My Dad had a lot of talents so kitchen clean-up might seem like a lame choice but Dad treated the task with the utmost respect and it’s about time I did too.

Ray Finlayson cleaned with the doggedness of a soldier, patrolling the borders of hidden dirt and secret smudges. He was never slap dash. Or dreary. He’d sing as he mopped up the gravy spills, the vegetable scraps and the meat gristle clinging to the cutting board. But that was just the opening salvo.

He’d dispatch the surviving dinner detritus back to the refrigerator and load the dishwasher to its groaning fullest, determined to cram in every last fork, sometimes shattering goblets and dooming us to stuck-on egg. But he was incorrigible on the mechanics. “That’s what they’re made for,” he’d intone, “Just thrun it all in!”—a nod to his Scottish roots, or his invented Daddy language. He’d push every high-speed, extra-rinse button to get his money’s worth.

Dad didn’t stint. He’d polish the tops of the salt and pepper shakers and the knobs of the cabinet doors, as he wielded his squirt bottle of whatever was handy. He never believed that there was a difference between Windex and stovetop cleaner, and dismissed my protests with “Ah, that’s just a marketing gimmick.” His final flourish was to shine the faucets and then fold the dishrag neatly over the spigot, with the grace of a sommelier. “Done!” he’d smile. “That’s how Daddy cleans the kitchen.”

I am my father’s daughter, but too often I forget the joy of shining the details or savoring the everyday.  I race to the ‘big what’s next’. My father was a master of burnishing the now. He respected the wipe of a rag.

I want to do more than miss him on Father’s Day. I want to keep learning from the best teacher I ever had. The man who taught me how to take care of myself, even if I don’t clean up so well. I can learn, Daddy. I can learn.

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The God Box Inside You

I have been speaking lately about how with time and effort, our careers can evolve to reveal and fulfill our purpose in life. Janet D. Garraty, founder and CEO of Go Jane News, was In a recent audience of women gathered by the Chamber of Commerce of South Jersey. Her review of my talk touched me so much, I had to share. Hoping like Jane, you discover the God Box your Mom left you. Read Janet’s post HERE.

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Thankful for Mary

This morning I walked over to St. Francis Xavier Church to the tiny room upstairs called “The Mary Chapel.” I wanted to attend morning Mass because today, May 29th is the 7th anniversary of my mother’s death. The Mary Chapel lives up to its name. As humble and warm, inviting and hopeful as she was. There are two stained glass windows, each capturing a moment of the Blessed Mother’s life, both donated long ago by the ‘Ladies Sodality.’ I love that.

And the people who come each morning are a mix of what makes our neighborhood beautiful—diverse in age and background, unified in their shared need for peace, even as the growl of NYC construction and traffic pierce in the silence. Inside, we are one, each asking aloud for help—for someone sick, for homeless people, for lost souls. My request was one of thanksgiving for the gift of my Mary.

The priest said that sometimes God speaks to us in subtle ways, little ways. My Mom’s handwritten notes, her helpful sayings, her soothing voice, her ready laughter—that’s what I hear in the subtle quiet of the chapel. And in my heart always. Mom once wrote to me, “You will always be in my God box.” You, too, Mare… you too.

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Now, what?

Do you ever feel that, just as you have accomplished something, people ask, “Now, what?” Happens to me all the time. “What’s your next book?” “Now what are you doing?” My first instinct is to want to fill in their blank with more goals. As I say in my one woman play, “pen, paper, check, check, check, that’s me!” And if I don’t have an ambitious answer, I feel that I am letting someone down.  I do have some terrific plans in the works for the fall God Box tour.

But sometimes, especially as this long-awaited summer finally arrives, it’s okay to be grateful for “now.” My friend, director and co-writer Martha Wollner always tells me to “pay yourself on the back.” Martha literally makes me stop and put my hand over my shoulder and give a good pat. I laugh but it’s true that too many of us don’t stop to acknowledge what’s good. Instead, we look in the mirror and wonder why we haven’t done more. It’s great to set high goals but it’s also important to take a breath.

I am so proud that The God Box Project has raised more than $150,000 for cancer, hospice, women and family causes and education. We have helped thousands of people find peace and hope even in loss. And we have made so many new and wonderful friends along the way. Let’s celebrate the ‘now’ and let the ‘next’ come in good time.

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Saluting a Master of Life

Today, the love of my life, Joe Quinlan receives his Masters degree in Irish and Irish American Studies from NYU. Joe likes to joke that he is the Bluto Blutarski of NYU…his Animal House laugh about his five years in school. But I feel serious today.  Seriously proud. I have watched Joe as he researched and read, studied and wrote. Joe was a sponge for everything Irish. He loved the learning, the faculty, the sessions of music and poetry, politics and thought. Joe found his greatest joy in the stories behind the stories…the family of Eugene O’Neill, the untoldsecrets of the Draft Riots of the Civil War, the unsolved murder of police detective Jerry McCabe. There is always a backstory. After all, it’s Ireland.

So many students hoot when they cross the stage…both victorious and relieved. But I know that Joe will walk straight and tall, enjoying the journey that he is privileged to take, remembering that long, long ago, his great grandmother Cecilia Cox left a tiny stone farmhouse in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh in Ireland…simply a young woman daring to find new hope in America. Who could know that her grandson Tom Quinlan, Joe’s Dad, would someday hold a Masters degree and teach poetry, even still in his 67th year as a teacher? And who would know that Joe would inherit that love of Ireland, pursuing a career in journalism, always learning and now walking across this stage today?

This connection of mother to son to son to son…lives on today. From a little farmhouse to the Lincoln Center stage. Here’s to Joseph Patrick Quinlan, son of Ireland, Class of ’13. I will hoot and holler with pride…to this Master of Life.

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Thinking of Mom, Godspeed Institute Radio Interview

Better late than never! NOW….

If you are thinking of your Mom today, whether she is with you or is in your heart, hope you enjoy this interview airing this afternoon on The Godspeed Institute for spiritual learning radio program on PRN-FM. Host Caer Hallundbaek was a terrific and insightful host!

Listen HERE!

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Thank You St. Mary!

The show for St. Mary Medical Center’s Healing Ministries meant a lot to me because last Christmas, my mother-in-law Ginny Quinlan arrived in their emergency room in very bad shape. We thought we were going to lose her but once in the kind and expert hands of the team there, day by day, they found the source of her pain and here she is five months later holding hands with her husband of 63 years, Tom Quinlan. So, the thank you letter below from the leader of the event Heather Procaccino works both ways:  St. Mary, I love you!

Hi Mary Lou,

I am still basking in the glow of the event.  Everyone was so moved by your presentation and your story.  The event helped us to raise several thousand dollars which will help our Holistic Center provide services to cancer and stroke patients who are in their final stages of life.  I will reach out to  Boni Riether with the good news.  She is the manger of the center and I know she will be so appreciative of your generosity in time, talent, and financial support.  All of which were above anything we could have expected.

I am sure through your book and performance you touch so many people who see themselves and their mothers in your story.  The universal message of love, loss, and grace is certainly conveyed every time you are on the stage.

Thank you again for sharing all of this with us and supporting St. Mary Medical Center. You helped to bring a new group of people into our orbit who we now have the opportunity to continue a conversation with them about our hospital.

I wish you all the best, and if there is anything I can do for you  or your family, please Mary Lou just ask.


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Open Doors to Hope

This door represents the Cancer Support Community program at the Greenville Health System’s Cancer Institute. Last Tuesday, as you will read in the article HERE, “The God Box” performance raised $10,000 to support a new Mindfulness program to help cancer survivors cope with strength and awareness. What a beautiful door to walk through!

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What we do for love!

What we do for love! After I perform the play, the question I am asked most often is: How do you do this, again and again? Aren’t you emotionally exhausted after reliving their deaths?” No. Every show, Mom and Dad are closer to me. And nothing makes me happier. Except helping others. We raised over $3,000 for the Connelly Center, a school for girls under the poverty line in NYC. LOVE!

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sample chapter
Enjoy a free selected chapter from The God Box.

reading group guide
Invite your book club to join this engaging conversation about Mary Lou’s book.

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Ask how Mary Lou can support your local cause with the book and play.
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press & praise
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  • "Mary Lou Quinlan shares her mother’s handmade and heartfelt gift of how to persist, believe and move forward with joy."
  • "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."
  • "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."
  • "A beautiful story of love, faith and family. It reads like an intimate, familiar prayer."
  • "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."
  • "What a beautiful and profoundly human book....I will keep The God Box in my heart for a long, long time."

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

November 28, 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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