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The light of grace

The year is 1953. Eleven-year-old Mike is diligent about his paper route, setting aside money to buy the desire of his heart. His parents tell him that he can spend the money he earns on whatever he wants (as long as it isn’t illegal or immoral). Mike saves twenty dollars. From a working-class family in the 1950s, twenty dollars is a lot of money.
One ordinary Tuesday, while walking downtown, Mike passes a music store. There, in the window, standing all by itself, is the most beautiful conga drum he has ever seen. It is almost as tall as he, barrel-shaped, smooth, dark and light wood alternated around a laminated exterior. A round, chrome frame stretched the thick animal skin tightly over the top of the drum. Before the day is over, Mike gives the owner $20, and walks home, the proud owner of a conga drum. (He proudly shows it to all his friends, and although none of them knew how to play any kind of a drum, it doesn’t stop them from pretending.)
Mike was not prepared for his Father’s anger.
What is that?
A drum.
How much did you pay?
Twenty dollars. That’s too much!
Their exchange was followed by silence, and then the words from his father that Mike will never forget: Take It Back!
Mike stood stunned while his new drum slowly slid from his side onto the kitchen floor. The incident never left Mike. As if there was a kind of permanent flinch, inside of him; as if his “grace credit card” could be canceled.

Mike became an ordained Protestant minister. As a preacher, Mike talked about God’s love. But the incident with his Father nagged him. What if he got it wrong?  What if this God would—like his own father—take his love back?
Mike Yaconelli writes in his book, Messy Spirituality, “Parked somewhere in my sub-conscious is the belief that grace and forgiveness are lavish, unconditional and limited. Cross God one too many times, fail too often, sin too much, and God decides to take his love back. It is so bizarre, because I know Christ loves me, but I’m not sure he likes me and I continually worry that God’s love will simply wear out.”
Years later, Mike shares the story of the drum (at a retreat co-led with his son Mark), and talks about God’s love. During his talk, Mark walks to a curtain behind the stage and brings out a gift for his father: a brand-new conga drum. Mike stares at the drum and his son, until someone in the crowd shouts, “Just take the drum!”
After a 47-year wait he does just that. This time with tears in his eyes, listening to his son say, “You deserve this one Dad, no one is taking it back.”

Here’s the deal: I can relate to Mike. And his story goes straight to my heart.
Somehow, we don’t believe we are wired for grace. There is in all of us a need to prove something. Something about our value tied to performance. Just think of the way we greet one another. What did you do today? What have you done for me lately? And God forbid if our answers fall short.
We live in a world that needs healing, from the gentle arms and hands of grace.
And every gift of grace… every smile, every laugh, every moment of kindness, every bit of gentleness and tenderness, lets a little more healing light spill into our world.
Sabbath Moment readers know that I’m not a fan of religion. Especially when it means that we need to tidy up, to sit up straight, to keep our nose clean, to earn something, while deep down, assuming that we are fooling everyone, somehow pulling a fast one. And public opinion is a big deal in this culture. And we easily believe our press releases, and Lord knows we find solace in moral rectitude.

I was raised in a church that didn’t believe in dancing. (Come to think of it, they didn’t believe in anything that spawned pleasure of any kind, and though I can’t prove it, I think they were opposed to giggling as well.) As a teenager, church camps would have bonfires for the sole purpose of burning anything that came between us and God. (I wish I were making this up.) And one thing was certain: We knew God hated rock ‘n roll. The preacher told us so. With a puffy livid crimson face. I can still see it in my mind. In High School, my favorite 45 (no, we had no digital devices), was The Beatles, The Long and Winding Road (the A side). (I’m not sure how I acquired it, under my parent’s radar.) This I know; I used to play it over and over and over, and let the music carry me to some kind of bliss. And now, the preacher told me that my record was an occasion to sin. (This is an odd turn of phrase, since the music brought me such unconditional delight). On a summer night, my vinyl-45-record burned, with many others, and we watched the smoke carry our sinful ways into the Michigan sky. I told this story a few times at various retreats.
Fast forward over thirty years. I am speaking in the Anaheim Convention Center. Two friends walk up to the stage and present me with a slim cardboard mailing box. On the outside is written, Amazing Grace. On the inside, a 45-vinyl record, circa 1970, The Beatles, The Long and Winding Road. (That box with the 45 is sitting on a shelf near my desk, a gift and reminder every time I see it.)
I am certain of this: there was more grace in that gift than any sermon I have ever heard. Not to rain on anyone’s parade, but I can’t see God unless there is skin attached.

And I choose to be a voice for grace… for compassion and mercy and second chances and healing and hope and sanctuary and inclusiveness and restoration and kindness and bigheartedness.
So, this week… Let us spill the light of grace.
Give a hug. Pay it forward. Pass on the conga drum.
Or if you can, share a long-lost vinyl 45.

We’ll soon be making my Power of Pause audio book available to all. Please enjoy the first few chapters here.

Quote for our week…
“I won’t take no for an answer,
God began to say
to me
when He opened His arms each night
wanting us to
dance.” St. Catherine of Siena

Note: The Conga story is adapted from Mike’s book, Messy Spirituality. Sadly, Mike Yaconelli died of a car accident in 2003. 


Today’s Photo Credit: “Hi Terry, The fall and winter here on the Central Coast of CA bring a special gift. Pismo Beach is home to one of the largest overwintering sites for the Western Monarch Butterfly. (The monarchs who originate from east of the Rockies go to Mexico.) So I usually trek down to Pismo a couple of times while they visit. Here’s a couple images I made last week. Butterflies… sign of metamorphosis and growth! Blessings,”
Madeleine Gallagher (Paso Robles, CA)… Thank you Madeleine… And thank you to all, I love your photos… please keep sending them… send to 

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Letters that do my heart good…
–These wishes to you as well, Terry. Thank you for having a Sabbath Moment community. It’s a life-source for peace and growth! Sheila
–When I read the sabbath moment this morning, I thought of this Sunday morning comic from 2021 Atlanta Journal/Constitution: it’s the Mutts cartoon. Thought you would appreciate it as I do! I love gardening. I’ve read your soul gardening. Now, I want to make my own garden into a sanctuary garden. I have butterflies, humming birds, and bluebirds, golden finches, red cardinals; a wild green parrot… to name a few. I also have wild mallards and white ducks who come everyday to my backyard sun-room door quacking for corn; and dahlias and other Perennials I cut for the neighbors; and two chairs over looking the tomato garden and lake, that a friend gave me. I do believe there is something spiritual about dirt under my fingernails as well dirt in between my toes and toenails! How I can tell others “how do I know?” Cause Terry Hershey said so!” Thanks Terry! Joy
–Love this Terry. I’m enjoying your A Place For Sanctuary. Daily Dose. It really touched my heart. Thank you very much! Coleen
–Hi, Terry, I looked at that picture and said “WOW”.  Thanks for sharing! Love the thoughts & inspiration from today’s SM. Of course, all of them are great. So needed some days more than others. God bless, Sue
–Hi Terry, You and Fr. Mike Schmitz must be on the same page. Give a listen to his last Sunday homily. Talked about being in the present moment. Love reading your sabbath moments each day. They are a blessing to me. Thank you. Katie


May the grace of God
break through the clouds of your life
like a warm setting sun,
reminding you that no matter
how dark your day may have been,
God has not abandoned you.
May hope stir
in your heart with the dawn,
giving you courage
to step into another day.
Malcolm Duncan
From More Niteblessings

Come, My Light
Come, my Light,
and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life,
and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician,
and heal my wounds.
Come Flame of divine love,
and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart
with the flame of thy love.
Dimitrii of Rostov

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