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:  www.giftofchildhood.org/godbox  Tickets available at the door while supplies last.

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Here Comes the Sun!

I‘m honored to perform “The God Box” anywhere but I must admit that staging the show in sunny Florida for January 29 really warms my heart–for a lot of reasons. Yes, the slushy ice and bitter cold of NYC are getting close to unbearable and trading snowboots for flip-flops sounds appealing. But it was Gina Groch, principal of St. Charles Borromeo School in Port Charlotte, Florida who won me over.

Gina, also a Philadelphia native, leads a wonderful Catholic school there, but one in need of real financial support. Her students, from first through 8th grade, have been making their own God Boxes all year long. (When you consider how many worries and wishes children carry on their shoulders today, sounds like a beautiful idea!) I can’t wait to do the show on Wednesday night in the Parish Auditorium at 6:30PM with all proceeds going to the school. If you are in the area, please join us. Go to the events calendar on The God Box Project website for ticket details.

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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!

C. 

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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Birthday Blessings

Today is my birthday. And I have so many reasons to celebrate and many of those reasons are my friends. Last night I shared my gratitude at a party with 22 of my closest girlfriends and they surprised me with this beautiful Friendship Box. The box, which is God Box blue, holds notes, from all of these wonderful women–family and longtime and brand new pals, each note as unique as they are. Even those who couldn’t make it sent notes. And the lid is engraved. ‘friendship is a blessing’. It is… And I am so blessed. Tears tonight when I read these. Count on it!

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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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Texting 9 to 5: A Generational Throwdown

Lately, I have noticed that my Gen Y colleagues have been spending more and more time pecking away at their mobile phones during the work day, (a boomer pet peeve that I have learned to live with). I assumed my millennial partners were exchanging one-liners or plotting cool parties with friends but in today’s Wall St. Journal, I learned that the person most often on the other end of the text is a mom.

Seems that twentysomething’s are g-chatting parents, mostly moms, as often as 20 times a day, just to dish on the sly or to share an indignity of office life. The article didn’t question whether daylong cubicle texting is a career-enhancing move but instead, asked whether the younger generation ought to be dumping work issues in mom’s lap rather than building independent problem-solving skills. After my initial eye-roll’s, I realized that I have actually embraced this digital reality and can even see the good in this changed office etiquette.

First things first. When I was climbing the corporate ladder (yes, and I walked barefoot to school in the snow), personal phone calls were NOT allowed. If Mom called, which she didn’t because she thought I would get in trouble, I would rush to hushed tones and hang up with promises of “I’ll call you tonight!” I’d been taught that the boss was paying for my attention to the job, not to my personal life.

But that was back when my workdays used to end at 6PM and when that same boss rarely, (make that never), called me at home at night. And there was no email. Can I say that again? There was no email. Today’s jobs aren’t 9 to 5 and haven’t been for years. Work summons us with the beep on the bedside table and haunts us with the last blink of night, while emails pile up on the pillow. So, with the workplace boundaries widened, the window for daytime personal duties opens. So I’ve decided I can get over my reflexive cringe at the sight of a clutched iPhone and admit that I like to text from my desk too–my husband, my friends, my to-do’s zip seamlessly in and out of my day. (Oh, how I would love to still have my Mom to text to!) Distracting? Yes. But helpful. And hard to kick. And I’m the boss, so why not? And if so, why not, others on the team?

And while at first, I felt annoyed reading about young-un’s running to mom with every office bruise, on second thought, maybe it’s not a bad idea. While it’s critical that we learn coping and negotiation skills early on, there’s nothing wrong with turning to “the source” for advice. I know I talked to Mom every night about every little nick and achievement. One friend said to me that her daughter texts her the moment her lunch break begins, her cue to lay out all her morning frustrations. And my friend’s responses are usually wise: “Give it some time.” “Think about why that might have happened.”  “Next time, try this approach.” Sound, thoughtful perspective or, one might say, skills training, which let’s face it, is rarely coming from the boss who can barely keep up with her/his own email avalanche. So, as long as the digital umbilical cord doesn’t extend into the performance appraisal session (“But she’s was so smart in fifth grade!!!”), I welcome the life line of Mom, AKA career coach. If the job gets done, I’m good with it. Ping away!

 

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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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Bring The God Box to your Community!

Bring The God Box to your Community!

I am sticking to my promise to spend this summer off the road but planning the next seasons of The God Box show. Each day I speak with amazing charities about how I can help them raise needed dollars for cancer care, hospice, healthcare and education. How about your special cause?

So often I hear, “When are you coming to the southwest?” Or “how come you haven’t been to (fill in the blank)? Here’s my answer: Just Ask! If you are associated with a school, a hospital, a hospice, or a women’s group, please write to me at marylou@thegodboxproject.com  Describe your organization, location, whether you are interested in the full play or a special book reading/speech and I can share details of what it takes. Simply put, you get the audience and we bring the show. Our team works with yours to make an experience that your community will always remember. The ticket revenue goes straight to your charity, with only minimal staging costs deducted (and if you are far from NYC, travel for me and our technical director.) I take no fee.

Check out the play on this site under ‘performance.’ Bring The God Box to your town in Fall ’13 or Spring ’14. (And a hint: If you live in the sunny south/southwest/west coast, talk to this New York girl about a January or February show.) Hope to see you!

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sample chapter
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giving back
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Come meet Mary Lou and experience The God Box: A Daughter's Story at a venue near you.
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press & praise
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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."
    – LAURA SCHROFF, AUTHOR OF "THE INVISIBLE THREAD"
  • "A wonderful legacy…Keeping a God Box is an incredibly moving and hopeful ritual that we should all consider adding into our daily lives."
    – REBA, MUSICIAN, AUTHOR, ACTRESS
  • "Mary Lou Quinlan shares her mother’s handmade and heartfelt gift of how to persist, believe and move forward with joy."
    – LEE WOODRUFF, AUTHOR OF "IN AN INSTANT"
  • "A beautiful story of love, faith and family. It reads like an intimate, familiar prayer."
    – ELIZABETH GILBERT, AUTHOR OF "EAT, PRAY, LOVE"
  • "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."
    – JEFFREY ZASLOW, COAUTHOR OF "THE LAST LECTURE"
  • "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."
    – JIM LEHRER, EXECUTIVE EDITOR OF PBS NEWSHOUR
  • "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."
    – GAIL SHEEHY, AUTHOR OF "PASSAGES IN CAREGIVING"

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

December 18, 2017
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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