The death of Mary Lou Quinlan’s mother, Mary Finlayson, in May 2006 led to a discovery that would alter her daughter’s life and inspire a movement. In her mother’s bedroom closet Quinlan found several of Finlayson’s “God boxes”--containers filled with specific prayers for family and friends, on matters great and small, handwritten on scraps of paper. The prayers provided a unique legacy of a mother to her daughter, but also a lovely practice in faith. “When she wrote a letter in that God box it was with her full heart,” Quinlan says. “Once a prayer was in the God box she felt like it wasn’t on her shoulders, it was over.”
Discovering the prayers also inspired Quinlan, a longtime advertising executive and women’s marketing consultant, to share the idea of the God box with the world. An article she wrote about her mother’s God boxes in the November 2010 issue of Real Simple magazine led to “an avalanche of responses which made me realize that the story was powerful,” Quinlan says. “I always knew that but I didn’t realize the well I’d tapped.”
The founder and CEO of the marketing consultancy Just Ask a Woman and Mary Lou Quinlan & Co., she earned a bachelor’s degree in English at Saint Joseph’s University and an MBA at Fordham University. She lives in New York City during the week and in Bucks County, Penn., on weekends, so she has a couple of God boxes of her own.
Quinlan’s marketing background and self-described Type A personality led the frequent keynote speaker and magazine contributor to initially self-publish The God Box with Greenleaf Book Group in April. Worthy Publishing picked it up and released its edition, The God Box: Sharing My Mother’s Gift of Faith, Love and Letting Go, this month (Oct.). Quinlan is the author of three other books: Just Ask a Woman (Wiley, 2003) Time Off for Good Behavior (Broadway Books, 2005), and What She’s Not Telling You (Greenleaf Book Group, 2010).
Quinlan decided to self-publish instead of taking a traditional publishing route so she could stay true to her vision for the book and retain editorial control over the process. “Because it was about my mom, I was so driven and specific about design and feel and length,” Quinlan says. “I wanted it to feel like a gift in a woman’s hands, or like something they’d want to give someone.”
Three weeks later, the book was on the New York Times bestsellers list. Worthy approached her about picking up the book and republishing it because “they saw its resonance could have a farther reach in the faith community,” Quinlan says. “I’m really excited about the chance to take my mother’s story to a different audience.”
To build the God box community and promote the book, Quinlan has launched a Web site, thegodboxproject.com, as well as a free iPhone The God Box app. “This is really making [my mother’s] little practice something alive and ongoing in the world,” Quinlan says. She has produced a one-woman play adapted from the book with playwright and director Martha Wollner; The God Box: A Daughter’s Journey, which she will perform in Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Chicago from October 14 through November 29. Links to tickets and tour dates are on Quinlan's site. Proceeds from those performances will go to local charities to “pay forward my mother’s generous spirit with the God-given talents she nurtured in me as a writer, speaker, and actress.”