Prayer Flags

It’s been rather breezy of late in Portland. I drive around, and my eye is drawn to the flapping Tibetan prayer flags that are hung from about every 10th house (every 5th house in my rather bohemian neighborhood). Prayers, being taken up by the wind and scattered to all corners of the earth.

Why haven’t my prayers been answered?

I’m human, it happens. I doubt in myself. I doubt in God. I haven’t prayed the Daily Office in weeks, instead making a pilgrimmage to the coffee shop for something to help pry my eyes open and a place to rest my laptop to surf job sites. I haven’t been to church in longer, I tend to forget what day it is, I can’t fall asleep until 6am pretty much every night, I’ve always been prone to stress-induced insomnia. Then I wake up at 10am and church is already over, my alarm clock somehow was unplugged and stashed under the television stand.

Why don’t I have a job yet?

My last interview was three weeks ago, for part time work at IKEA. They haven’t called back, haven’t returned my phone calls. My laptop is now falling apart. Literally, the hinge has cracked and it’s being held together by duct tape. I need to take it in; if the repair is over $200 I’m scrapping it and buying my friend’s old Mac Mini. $200 is exactly 2/3rds of my weekly unemployment check. The phone is ringing again, I don’t pick it up. I can’t pay my student loans, sorry. This wasn’t supposed to happen, though, getting a college degree was supposed to insure I had work. That’s what the slick brochures said, and they also said that because I’d always have a job, I’d never default on my student loans, so just sign your life away here, here, and initial here.

Am I being punished for some past sin?

If I have to shell out $200, either for a new machine or a repair, I won’t have money for food. My cupboards are getting pretty bare, unless you, you know, enjoy eating shortening straight from the can. I’ll have to go down to church, I can sneak in the back during the free lunch, because they know me and I won’t have to stand in line with the other people. I’m allowed back into the pantry, and I’ll admit to whomever is working there that I’m not here to help pack bags today, I’m the one in need of assistance. I’ll sneak out the back way, again, put the bags in my car, hope not many people see me, because then there will be questions and people trying to offer reassurance and advice. I’m signed up with four different temp agencies, thank you; I know things will get better; I appreciate it, but they told me I was overeducated; If I don’t find something in the next month, I’m going to have to leave Portland.

Why is this happening to me?

My unemployment insurance runs out the first week of September. I’m so tired of moving, was ready to settle into a permanent job, even one outside my field. People around the country have promises of rooms to stay in, of booming job markets, of cheap housing and vibrant downtowns that remind them of Portland. Except with blizzards, tornadoes, and cockroaches the size of Texas. I thought leaving Sacramento was hard, in retrospect, it was freakin’ easy. I hadn’t made but two friends in the three years I lived there. Here? Here I’ve got family, a community, people who tracked my stupid butt down and yelled at me for scaring them, asked why I hadn’t been to church in over a month, and then laughed at me when I had to count in my head to figure out, oh, it’s not May anymore, huh?

Where the hell is God right now?

I make myself leave the house at least once a day. Most of the time I walk, around the neighborhood, trying all the coffee shops within a 10 block radius (there’s 9 different ones, and Stumptown’s only 12 blocks away), looking at the strange things people put up to decorate their houses. ‘Beware of Pirates’ signs are rather popular right now. My prayer list from church is the one from April 22nd, but it’s still in my pocket. Sometimes it comes out, I’ll read a few names, almost get squished by a bicyclist, put it away and pay attention to where I’m going.

Where are those prayers flying off to?

Will they ever wing their way back?



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20 responses to “Prayer Flags

  1. It sucks to be without a paycheque, watching the bank balance online with mounting dread. Some of the most fervent prayers are, “Please God, the rent cheque can’t clear today. Please.”

    I really hope something comes up for you soon. My prayers are with yours, flying off to an uncertain destination.

  2. Suzer

    Prayers ascending for you, Mary Sue. I, too, have been through the “college is supposed to mean a good job, and the ability to pay off your student loans” schtick. It’ isn’t true, which realization unfortunately comes too late for some of us. Sending you some virtual {{{{hugs}}}}.

  3. I have so been where you are right now, and it’s gone on for me for the past ten years. I had to move back home at the age of 35, because of the same issues you discuss in this post. Things are leveling out a bit, now, but it’s been a struggle.

    Many times, I have wondered where God was in all of this, and I have likened my prayers to a helium-filled balloon. The balloon represents all of my prayers, but the balloon only floats to the top of my ceiling and then bounces along, finally resting in one spot. Sometimes, I feel that’s as far as my prayers reach–the top of the ceiling.

    I will tell you what worked for me, somewhat, and you may already know about this site. Go to, for your area and take a look at the job postings. I’ve found many contacts and repeat contract work from some of the listings.

    Feel free to email me anytime. My partner sent me your blog, as she said I would so understand it. I do.

    Take Care,

  4. I know what poverty is like. It sucks in more ways you can imagine until you’ve faced it.

    But remember, God is always with you, even – especially – when you feel most alone in the darkness. All I can offer are prayers and virtual hugs, but those are yours.

  5. Mary Sue, I don’t know what to say except this really bites. I’m so sorry. You are in my prayers and heart, and I am glad to hear that there are people there tracking you down and making sure you’re ok.

    Much love, C.

  6. BooCat

    I have added you to my prayer list, Mary Sue. I have spent the past two years scraping by after having been RIF-ed after twenty-one years of working for a state agency where I live. We have filed suit and won at two levels but they keep appealing; so, each win is just winning another year or two of litigation. Every month is a financial nail biter. I’ve had my moments of asking,”Where is God?” That’s usually when God comes up and hits me right between the eyes. Keep alert to the little things that happen, Mary Sue. God is in those little moments of grace: the unexpected temp job that is just enough for the power bill or out of town friends who call and ask you out for a meal. I, too, work in the food pantry at church and I, too, have come close to needing to be a recipient of aid there. On at least two occasions, I have had to borrow money from our priest’s discretionary fund, but my church family has always been there to support me no matter what my need and your church will be too. Try them. I would bet anything they will come through for you. God’s peace and love. You will be prayed for in my Daily Office until I read that you have made it through this and into a permanent job.

  7. Sister, I’ve followed your adventures and misadventures for some time without chiming in. I really admire your pluck and perspective. What you’ve described totally sucks, and I just wanted you to know that in my own weird way, I’m praying for you.

  8. UGH! [Why is this writing so large?] I am so sorry you have to go this. And I have so been there — the lack of money, all the machines falling apart (an editor of mine used to refer to this as “the revenge of the inanimate objects”), no respite in sight. It ain’t Godde, honey, it’s the damn system. Godde is sometimes as vulnerable as we are; which helps but doesn’t necessarily produce a job. I wish I had a winning lottery ticket for you, or a job or a new computer — but I’m sending solidarity aplenty and prayers and I hope things get better soon. Doesn’t hurt to have a good yell at God[de] though, so if you haven’t yet, I recommend it. God can take it. Hang in there. Know that you’re not alone. Now, shall we make a novena to Santa Ignora?

  9. episcopalifem

    ((((Mary Sue))))

    Add my prayers to the heap. I’ve been lucky enough to always have a job, but I spent years underemployed. YEARS.

    I’m glad you have a church and a community to go to when you need them. And I don’t know why God let’s some of us struggle more than others. It sucks and it is not fair.

    More (((((hugs)))). It’s all I’ve got right now.

  10. I have no pat answers but I doubt you want those anyway. Just wanted to say you will be in my prayers. A woman across the country in Michigan, here because a priest in England told her to come. It is a small world. Thank you for being willing to share your frustration and pain.

    I have been out of work, I understand the feeling of loss and fear. I kept repeating the mantra “All will be well.” But it perhaps did not help until later, when all was well.

    Peace and hugs to you.

  11. lj

    Sending hope across the country to you. Hang in there. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

  12. I have seen the hope of staying in more than one place dry up and fade away. The only good news was that I came to love the next place, too–after a lot of grieving.

    Portland is a tough place to get a foothold, especially for jobs. Not getting a job there means nothing about you, or your prayers, or God, just that a flawed human construction didn’t have room for you in one way. That may not be any less painful.

    Prayers that there will be a good place for you in every respect, and soon.

  13. NancyP

    {{{Mary Sue}}}

    Mary Sue, if you can bear it, tell a few church friends about your predicament and ask them if they know of any jobs, or could ask one of their friends about possible job openings. Sucks, but it is true that people tend to hire folks already vouched for by people they know. Also, this being summer, amusement park supervisor of teen workers (this is a job commonly held by young teachers, so “over-educated” isn’t an issue), undocumented laborer jobs (house rehab for small owner) as temp? Apartment manager (get place to live for free – part time work, can still get “real” job)? I know you’ve thought of lots and lots of things.

  14. Mary Sue–I wish I could do more, but I will certainly pray for you and I am sending all the good cyberwishes I can your way.

    I will pray for a new job–but also for rest. I know all too well how an inability to sleep can color everything else in your life…

  15. John Plummer

    Hey Mary Sue – Hang in there! When I moved from NY to TN, it took me over 6 months to find work – not fun!

  16. Dear Mary Sue,

    I just wanted to let you know that I have heard your cry. And, no, I am not taking my sweet time in answering you. But, I am having a hell of a time trying to have some of those SOBs down there to haul their asses and give you a call. I’ll keep trying!

    It is alright to have doubts. Even my Son had some doubts. Now, just remember– all that counts is that I have faith in you. There is nothing that I wouldn’t do to brighten up again your smiling eyes.


    The Boss

  17. Where are those prayers flying off to?

    Will they ever wing their way back?

    I can’t say for sure, but as a Christian, my hope is that they will wing their way back.

    Anyhow, more prayers flying off from here.

  18. Mary Sue,

    I love you and I’m praying for you. It’s all I can offer, but perhaps, even knowing that will do something.

  19. Count my prayers in your prayer basket. E-mail me privately if you like; there’s a small chance I might have connections of some kind or another to help you out.

  20. johnieB

    I’ve been there, and I’ve heard others say the same. Sleep is easier with medication (not a CNS depressant; alcohol should be avoided).

    Do not berate yourself for what “should” have happened; perhaps you believed a lie “a Bachelor’s degree is your ticket to a happy and secure future”, but you can still do well in your life. It may be that you are learning now what would be too painful to face later. The truth can be tough, but it’s the only thing that can be relied on in our struggles.

    I’m standing with you, my unknown sister, in my prayer and wherever that may lead, with God’s help. You are loved, and therefore lovable, o child of God.