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Inside the God Box

What if you could catch a glimpse of every hope—big or small—your mother ever had for you? Here, one daughter’s story of enduring love. 

By Mary Lou Quinlan
Woven trinket boxJosé Picayo

Every family member had a unique relationship with the God Box. Dad was glad Mom had a way to quell her worrying. To me and Jack, the God Box was akin to a child’s beloved blanket; it conferred security, or the illusion of it. We felt our hopes were in Mom’s hands, and there all would be well.

What we didn’t know was how many times Mom wrote in the box—until we lost her. As Jack, Dad, and I were preparing for her funeral, we talked about the God Box. So I headed back to her bedroom to look for it. Reaching to the top shelf of her closet, I yelled, “I found it!” But as I grabbed the box, my hand brushed another and then another. Ultimately we found a total of 10. We were shocked to see so many, filled to the brim with petitions spanning two decades.

Spilling the scraps, we were face-to-face with every mountain and molehill we had ever confided to Mom. In the God Boxes, she had left a 20-year love letter to us in hundreds of pieces. Many messages were freighted with emotion: “Please help Dad get his speech back 100%” or “Please help my neighbor Rachel. She’s sick and stays inside and won’t talk to me.” Others were mundane yet surprisingly poignant (“Please choose correct ship and cabin for Mother’s Day cruise present”), revealing how much thought she put into everyday matters. I laughed when I saw that she had interceded to get difficult coworkers out of my life, citing each one by name; I’d forgotten most of them. If a favor was granted, Mom would insert thank-you notes, like “Good mammogram, thank you.”

The God Box held her prayers for many people outside our family, whether they had asked to be included or not. A few years back, Jen, my longtime business partner and friend, was unhappy to be single and buying her 11th bridesmaid dress. Though she is Jewish, she lit up when Mom told her that she had written, “Dear Jesus, Please let Jen meet the right guy.” Jen later admitted, “I didn’t necessarily believe it would work, but I figured the more people pulling for me, the better.” Soon thereafter, she and her boyfriend, Greg, got married. After Mom’s death, I told Jen that I had found a slip in the box that read, “Please cure Sue,” referring to Jen’s mother, a breast cancer survivor. Jen was stunned. “They never even met,” she said.

The pleas that hit me hardest were those in which Mom asked for an end to her suffering from the incurable blood disease that plagued the last 25 years of her life. “Memorial Day, 1994: Please hear me. My mouth is very sore. Please cure it and cure my platelet problem. I thank you, and I love you.” “July 6, 2000: My dearest Ray cannot bear to see me like this. These past days make me feel weak, tired, and just miserable. You have answered so many of my requests for my family. Help the Dr. find an answer.” And “March 2003: Please, God, give me the answer to restoring red blood cells.”

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