Kerosene Light

By: Debbie Dyment

Tags: A Way In the Wilderness Fall 2022 Issue

Kerosene Light

Alongside all of the dire government and health warnings that happened in Ontario that week of March 9th, 2020, the phone call from my son stands out as the thing that literally brought me to my knees. His voice was clear and practiced, “Mom, for your safety, we’re not going to visit you and Dad again until this crisis was over.”   The “we” were him, his wife, and our four grandchildren. I sat right down on the floor of the kitchen and tried to keep my voice from trembling with the mental torment I felt; but the blinding heart pain that resulted was so deep that it came close to the loss I felt when our first grandson died. Gut-wrenching adjectives are the only way I know to describe it: 

Suffering, sadness, 

Falling into a deep hole

With a predator howling and hunting me as I fell

Hopeless horror, 

Darkness and despair waiting for me at the bottom – no way out.

The pain devoured all the light around me and seemed to consume my body; like when you are walking on a moonless night and you can’t see your hand in front of you or your feet beneath you. In lots of ways I lost myself that day. And when I lost myself, I seemed to wander aimlessly looking for a way out of that hole.  And I cried, “Why? Lord are you angry?  Are you here Lord, or have you left us alone? ” And I repeated the first verses of Psalm 46 over and over again, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…”As I repeated it I tried to believe it- tried to convince myself not to fear and to believe that no matter what happened God was in charge. 

Some days I held on, but other days were difficult. Our house had been sold before the pandemic and we needed to buy another one. We were soon to have no place to live and all alone we had to pack up 32 years of memories in a storage container. My mother, who has Alzheimer’s, needed a place to live and despite the retirement homes being a hot-spot for the disease, with help from my brothers and sister, we decided she needed to move there. The difficult days persisted through not weeks, but years. 

Through all that time, I could not find the redemption and light. I’m a Christian, but it was not some angel of God or some great beacon that suddenly opened up the way and cured me and all of us from the disease and took away the wilderness journey. Instead, it was like this: I was camped in the dead place where the tree above me gave no shelter and where my own corpse had begun to sprout when there appeared a small, kerosene lantern that was held out in front of me.  I couldn’t see the Light Bearer at all, but the lantern shone a small puddle of light; enough to make it clear where to take the next right step. It was like that. The next right step was a new song of lament, or a zoom call with a friend, or a first floor apartment opening up for my mother so we could do outdoor visits.  God knew about my falling down the dark hole and my wanderings through the great wilderness because He was there always; my rescue was and is assured, but the wanderings are part of it. As Bilbo said, “Not all those who wander are lost.”  I just hadn’t learned that. I’m not sure if I’ve learned it yet. 

The only thing I have learned is that the small light from the lantern still comes in the wilderness journey. In Isaiah, the scriptures say, 

“In a desert land God found him,
    in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
    he guarded him as the apple of his eye,
 like an eagle that stirs up its nest
    and hovers over its young,
that spreads its wings to catch them
    and carries them aloft.
The Lord alone led him…

It doesn’t feel like victory. It feels like the kerosene lamp is with me, and just as Isaiah said, God has found me and is still leading me to take the next right step. Maybe this is how it will always be now, or maybe not, but somehow even in the howling wasteland that still seems to be my life, the dim light shines and although I can’t always see Him, He is leading me.