Mary Lou Quinlan's The God Box is the beautifully written story of a mother who relies on God to help her raise her children and to authentically listen to others' and her daughter's journey through the grieving process. Mary Lou is the daughter in this story, who learns as much about herself as she does about her mother, when after her mother dies she finds her stash of personal notes to God and uses her learnings to inspire millions of notes to God.
When Mary Lou Quinlan's beloved mother, Mary Finlayson, died, Mary Lou searched for her mother's "God Box," her notes to God on behalf of family, friends and strangers. What Mary Lou found is not one but 10 boxes stuffed with hundreds of tiny, personal notes from her mother to God that spanned the last 20 years of her mother's life. Note by note, Mary Lou unearthed a treasure of her mother's wishes and worries and insight. Mary asked God for everything from the right flooring for her daughter's home to a cure for her own blood cancer.
There were so many insights into her mother's heart in those handwritten notes. Each one was a treasured gem. But some did stand out, perhaps a little shinier than the others. Mary Lou said, "I guess the favorite prayer I found was one that was actually outside of the God Boxes. My mom had stashed a Post-it in an old jewelry box of mine. I had been digging around under my bed where I hid all the stuff that a New York apartment couldn't hold. And the little note was folded inside, and dated March 1991. I found it in March of 2011, 20 years later. She wrote, "I love you! You will always be in my God Box." I believe she knew I would find it when I needed it most. She was right."
Something for everyone
When Mary Lou decided to write The God Box, she knew she was sharing a part of her mother's heart with the world. She truly believed her mother's lessons were universal. Mary met daily worries with these notes. To her, they were prayers. And for religious readers, it's easy to see how these notes could easily become a beautiful form of daily prayer practice.
I wondered how The God Box is received by the non-religious. Mary Lou explained that the practice of giving voice to our worries then letting them go is (truly) for everyone. She said, "As I've traveled the country, I've learned that the practice of writing down concerns and giving them over — letting them go — is found not only in many religions and cultures, but also in the recovery movement. We all hold so many worries and fears in our hearts. How beautiful to first give them a voice and worth by writing them down… and then folding and putting them away into stronger hands. Note by note, we find more comfort in knowing we aren't alone, no matter what we believe."
Readers reach out to Mary Lou with their God Box stories. Their beauty lies in how personal yet universal they are. Mary Lou said, "I received a beautiful letter from a woman who had lost her 21-year-old son in a car accident. No chance for goodbyes or last words. So, as a way to allow herself and his friends to express their love for him, she put out a God Box at his service and invited everyone to write their thoughts to him on little pieces of paper and put it in his God Box. Reading them later, when she could handle it, gave her tremendous comfort and taught her things about him she never knew." This God Box in practice was a gift to so many people, in so many ways.
Your God Box
The concept of writing our hearts is intriguing on a universal scale. The God Box is a bestselling book, a free app, a thriving website and, most recently, a one-woman live show. Mary Finlayson's voice is threaded throughout all of these avenues carrying messages of love and hope to so very many people.
Mary Lou explained, "For those who have lost someone they love, I hope that the God Box brings memories and comfort. So many have told me, "Your mother Mary was just like mine." Or, "You brought my dad back to me in that book." That makes me so happy. And for those who see the show and/or read the book, I hope they see that by allowing the memories and love of those we lost to come back into our lives, we can keep that connection we miss and treasure. And if we are still lucky enough to have our parents, to say what we want to say while we have the chance. And if we are parents, to try to instill that love and relationship with our own families. And finally, if the idea of a God Box seems possibly interesting or helpful, I hope that some begin their own. And if writing things in a box seems like too much work for busy, on-the-go folks, there's the free app on iTunes, The God Box."
Learn More!^Find out more about the God Box Project on the website and Facebook page and by reading the book. And let us all know if you decide to start a God Box — via handwritten notes or on the app — of your own.
Photo credits: The God Box Project