February 24th was my Mother’s birthday

Today February 24th was my Mother’s birthday. I’d tell you her age but I know better. When I would visit her in Florida for her birthday (I never missed a single one), she would say, ‘Don’t tell people how old you are, or else they will know how old I am!”. Mary Boales Finlayson was never old. She never said, “Oh, I’m just an old lady,” or “Well, you know how it is at this age.” She was ageless, always young in her way. Had a Mac way before anyone else. Constant emailer. Always in search of a cool hairstylist. I see her in this picture, sitting on my grandparents’ sofa in Philadelphia and think, “Oh, Mary, did you know how loved you would be…even then?” You were, Mom. You are. You always will be. Happy Birthday from your…29 year old girl.

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From Page to Stage

I guess it’s kind of unusual for a writer to decide to turn her book into a play…at the same time she writes it. But I did. There was just so much more MOM to share!  If you’re curious why I felt I needed to tell  Mom’s story onstage, watch this little film that tells the tale…with love. My dream is now a reality. On February 16 and 17th, I will be performing “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story” off-off Broadway in NYC and would love to see you there. Write to GodBoxtickets@gmail.com to reserve tickets in NYC!

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Letters to The God Box: A hopeful way to honor Mom

What a touching letter I received from Jim…a beautiful way to love and remember your mother at the holidays.
“Mary Lou,
Wanted to let you know that I presented my wife and sisters with  copies of The God Box and their own personal God Boxes that I had made from the dress our Mothers wore to our wedding. Needless to save there were some tears of joy shed around the table. This was our First Annual “Let’s Celebrate Mary Party” as this is the first Christmas without her and her birthday is December 18; she would have been 91. Now you have God Boxes throughout the tristate area. I have attached some pictures so you can see the festivities-they were thrilled to hear you also were a “Cardinal Dougherty” girl!
Merry Christmas From The Curtin Family!”

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In my words, with love for the holidays

Just in time for Christmas, we’re happy to present “The God Box” audio book from Brilliance Audio. I recorded this two disc set a couple of months ago as a way to spread the love to those who prefer to listen on the road, on the run or just on their own. Brilliance asked me to ‘audition’ to be me and I tried my best and had a lovely time recording it. You can order it in time for gift-giving by clicking right here on amazon and also listen to a sample to check it out.  Great stocking stuffer for that special someone who needs a little faith, love and letting go this holiday.

 

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Letting Go of an Angel

I don’t know what the hardest job in the world might be but it’s fair to say that serving as chaplain in the oncology ward of a children’s hospital is right up there.  I can only imagine the strength it takes to comfort parents facing their child’s fight with cancer. Yet an angel did that job every day for 20 years—with joy. Her name was Sister Alice Edward Strogen (r), SSJ, Oncology Chaplain of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, known locally as CHOP. “Jolly” was how her office mate Helen Stermel described her. I’d suggest “Saint.”

If you don’t know much about nuns, here’s a thumbnail. They work tirelessly in schools, in hospitals, in some of the most desperate circumstances—not for money or praise, but for others. Many work well into their 80s and 90s, devoted to God. I was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph. I know these women. They are invincible.

I never met Sister Alice but she ‘met’ me when she attended my performance of “The God Box” on November 16, held to raise dollars for the retired sisters in the St. Joseph Villa in Flourtown, PA.  That night as I looked out from the stage, the audience was so darkly lit, I couldn’t see a single face. But that weekend, I received an enthusiastic letter from Sister Alice.

“Your dear mother, Mary, continues to have an impact on so many people!” she wrote. “I think that your mother’s legacy…her faith…her hope and her love… have so much to offer each one of us. Her most profound gift to us is the art of learning how to let go. I have said for years that I believe that this is what life is all about…learning how to let go!”

Sister and I wrote back and forth for a week, both of us so excited about bringing the show to Children’s Hospital. I couldn’t wait to meet her. But last Wednesday, Cindy Schmus, a nurse practitioner at CHOP, wrote to tell me that her dear friend Sister Alice, only 65 years old, had suddenly died of a massive heart attack. Cindy wrote that Sister spent her last hour, talking about sharing The God Box with patients and parents to help them cope.

I keep re-reading Sister Alice’s letters to me:

“I, too, believe that God brings people together and makes things happen…that’s why we have to learn to let go and open ourselves to God’s ideas for our lives…just like your mother did!”

Her funeral service is being held today at the Villa at 12:30PM. I know that the chapel will be packed with heartbroken souls trying to hold on to her. I won’t let go of my commitment to Sister Alice. I will figure out how to bring “The God Box” to the families and staff of CHOP. Rest in eternal peace, sweet angel. It’s only fair after doing the hardest job on earth.

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What’s in your God Box?

 

Last night in Lake Forest, I was so grateful to perform The God Box on behalf of the BCureful Foundation. Photos coming of the beautiful, packed house who came to the show filled with love for the host and mom in charge Julie Scroggins of Waukegan, Illinois. With her trusty genius artistic friend Teddi, look at the God Box centerpieces she created with antique boxes, each holding one of my Mom’s little messages. Pure joy! What do you place in your God Box?

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Letters to The God Box: Heaven Sent

I received these wonderful words from Britta Jicks whose memories of her Mom and whose approach to the God Box might just make your day. Made mine!

Dear Mary Lou,

My Mom was a kindred spirit much like yours and my best friend. I was so upset on Saturday. It was the first time her birthday came since her passing on March 3, 2012. I was there to do the hospice for her at her home along with my siblings. Anyway a wave of depression settled on me, and I needed an answer. I found it in the God Box on Sunday with your app suggestion.

I am carved of the same cloth as your Mom… I attract people and listen but I always prayed and then didn’t let go. That has been me since college, eventually leading me to a break down at age 21. I had been listening and worrying for all my sorority sisters, they felt better but I held the weight of all on my shoulders. My Mom knew, because I have had this my whole life…

When my Mom was diagnosed with AML, I quit telling her all the problems/prayers I started talking to Jesus/God. Before I had told Mom and after I’d share or she would share we would pray and she was my prayer release. We would, and when we came up with a plan/prayer, we’d say,”The rat is on the wheel” and then laugh. I have found cards, notes, stories etc from my Mom too. Thank you for sharing your Mom and helping me find a way to let go and let God. The notebooks and journals…I never felt that I had let go. I do in this way, I love it and it was so great to have this blessing from your Mom. Thanks Mary Lou.

Your sister in Christ,

Britta Jicks

God Bless

PS I told my Bible study group about the God Box.. They are very excited about it too. My husband is writing his prayers and putting them in there too. There is something about the act of putting your prayers into the box that frees you. My husband cracked me up, he said, “Oh I like that!” Then later, after I put his prayer in the box, he said “Well, what I really want to see is just how you plan on mailing that box to God?” I said, “Oh silly, it’s God! He already has it, it’s as good as mailed.”

 

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Falling into my mother’s footsteps

There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see some glimpse of my mother in me. But breaking my foot on a New York sidewalk is too close for comfort. Last week I cracked my 5th metatarsal when I leapt to save my little dog Rocky from the jaws of a mastiff that Rocky had—somewhat impertinently!—sniffed.  Now I am dragging an UGG-ly boot around Manhattan that cannot be made to look cute no matter what I do with it. My mother would understand.

When Mom first visited me and Joe in New York City, she sprained her ankle on a cracked sidewalk. (She also had a bracelet stolen by the elderly lady she stooped to help on the street, but it was the 70s.) Dad, who never believed anything hurt, propped Mom up in the backseat of their car, stuck her leg out the window to chill in the sleet all the way home on the Jersey Turnpike.  (Ice and elevate, right?)

A couple years later, Mom sprained her ankle again, this time at home in Philadelphia. She was trying to stay off it but Dad wanted her to ‘get her mobility back’ as he said. “Hey, Mary, let’s take a walk  outside.” Begrudgingly, Mom hobbled to the door, took one step out and sprained the other one. Not a high point in our family’s medical history.

So, in honor of Mom, I will grin and bear it. And be glad that at least it’s not sleeting and I’ve got an elevator, a cab and if necessary, will hitch a ride on Rocky. It’s the least he can do!

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One Day at a Time

Most mornings on the way to work, I buy coffee from Nasir who parks his pushcart at the corner of 9th and Broadway. If you aren’t in NYC, picture a metal cart about five feet across, six feet tall and two feet deep that contains not only the proprietor, but coffee/tea/racks of jelly donuts and bagels, cups, ice and a heater to keep him warm in frigid temps.

This morning I noticed that Nasir had really slimmed down. “How do you stay that way?” I asked, while inhaling the fragrance of a just baked croissant. “Let me tell you,” he said. “Last year, I went to the doctor and my cholesterol was 247 and he warned me to exercise or else. So I started to park my pushcart on the sidewalk earlier and then run back and forth between 8th and 9th street. First I could only do it once. Then 20 minutes.  Now I run a 100 times back and forth every day and my cholesterol is down to 140.” So every morning at dawn, he runs…and it began one block at a time.

Nasir’s story made me think of the God Box.  I’ve heard some people say, that it’s hard to remember to put a message in. I know it’s hard for me, and actually I imagine it’s easier just to keep on worrying and noodling things in my head. (For hours! Why does that make sense?) But if I think of it, as one note at a time, maybe I could learn to ask more often and feel that relief of letting go. One block. One prayer. One smart coffee pal of mine.

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MONDAYS WITH MOM:The Sparkle in my Step

Do you believe that things happen for a reason? I do. Yesterday I started the day in overdrive. The book is one week from its official launch date and my head was spinning with undone “to do’s.” Did I finish revisions to my play script in time for my mid-day rehearsal? Did I remember to send advance books to friends? Did I write my Monday post for theGodBoxproject.com? No, no and no.

And the big question, did I have a pair of sparkly shoes that would save me from hemming my new dress that I planned to wear to the kickoff at the Coaches Vs Cancer Gala in Philadelphia this coming Saturday? No time. Shoe store closed till 10am. How to fill the precious seconds?

Every Monday, Union Square Park, right near our apartment, becomes a wonderful farmers’ market—flowers, fruits, vegetables. With the book in full bloom, I hadn’t visited it for a while, so I thought I’d walk around and sniff the goodness till DSW opened. That’s when I met Etta.

I had stopped at the wheatgrass stand. I don’t have a cat. I can’t believe people drink the stuff. I buy it as ‘grass decoration.’ (Don’t laugh, it’s only $3 a patch.) But this lovely older woman chatting with the wheatgrass guy, and she looked at me and said, “You have beautiful eyes.” Huh? Only my Mom would have said that to me. “Do you have a juicer?” she asked. “No, I don’t drink this,” I said. She was appalled when I said that I only bought it for its looks. “Give her a shot,” she said to the vendor. “This is Stewart, I am Etta.” And she handed me a plastic shot cup of green liquid. “This tastes like grass,” was the best I could offer. “Gets rid of toxins, swirl it around and it’s good for your gums, good energy!” she grinned.

Etta and I left together, talking and laughing. A new friend. She kept turning to smile and wave as she walked off. Me, too. And I walked back to the shoe store and bought these even though I was already happily walking a foot off the ground. Was it Etta? The wheatgrass chaser? Or…Mom?

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sample chapter
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printable mini cards
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press & praise
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  • "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"
  • "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"
  • "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
  • "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
  • "A beautiful story of love, faith and family. It reads like an intimate, familiar prayer."
    – ELIZABETH GILBERT, AUTHOR OF "EAT, PRAY, LOVE"
  • "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"
  • "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"

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

December 15, 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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