When I took my class on Grace last semester, one thing, among the thousands, that hit me was that our teacher (a therapist) explained that everyone has two basic emotional needs: 1) to be ok, and 2) to know that they matter.

Isn’t it the most beautiful form of human nature to make one another understand that they matter?

I am reminded of this thought on a daily basis. The child who needs some extra attention or an extra hug. The seemingly calloused sales clerk who may just be having a rough day, and may need someone to be gentle with them. The blog reader who sees the world through different lenses than I do. It all matters.

People matter.

When my mom recommended this book, Tattoos on the Heart a few months ago I was in the middle of three others so I put it on the back burner. But when it was my turn to choose a book for book club last month, I remembered that recommendation and chose it.

And oh boy, it did not disappoint.

This review from Amazon explains it better than I can:

For twenty years, Gregory Boyle has run Homeboy Industries, a gang-intervention program located in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world. In Tattoos on the Heart, he distills his experience working in the ghetto into a breathtaking series of parables inspired by faith.
These essays about universal kinship and redemption are moving examples of the power of unconditional love and the importance of fighting despair. Gorgeous and uplifting, Tattoos on the Heart reminds us that no life is less valuable than another.

This man, to me, embodies Christ-like love. I mean, just look at him in this picture surrounded by these gang members he adores and who adore him because he gives them a place next to him. He “sees” them. He stands with them. No matter what they do or say. He has their back.

As he says, “attention from another reminds us of our true shape in God.” Isn’t that just so beautiful? He tells stories of all these “homies,” many in rivaling gangs, who come to get honest work at Homeboy Industries. And he chronicles stories of their lives.

And it is beautiful. Spoke right to my heart. Pretty much every one of those stories had me with tears welling up in my eyes. Love is just such a beautiful thing. And it comes from getting to know people. “It always becomes impossible to demonize someone you know.”

I loved a story near the end when Gregory Boyle is invited to bring three of the “homies” to visit the White House. They have never flown before so it is quite an adventure for them (see video below), but at one point one of them doesn’t come back to his seat for a long period of time. Finally he returns and tells “G” (Gregory Boyle) that he got talking to a flight attendant who he ended up giving a descriptive tour of his life and Homeboy Industries. And he told her that for the first time the night before three gang members got to visit the White House and have dinner there. “And she cried.” To this “G” replies, “well, what did you expect? She just caught a glimpse of you. She saw that you are somebody. She recognized you as the shape of God’s heart. Sometimes people cry when they see that.”

Makes me wonder how often we recognize others around us as “the shape of God’s heart.” Our children. Our husbands. Our friends. Strangers on the street. They are all “the shape of God’s heart.” How often do we recognize that WE are “the shape of God’s heart.” Because, after all, that’s what we are isn’t it? It doesn’t matter how many tattoos we are covered with or whether we are broken or whole. It doesn’t matter if we make a million mistakes or if we have lost track of who we are.

The bottom line is that He knows.

And if we can only recognize that, and feel that unconditional Love, perhaps, just like that lady did on the airplane, we can recognize ourselves. And in doing so we can recognize others. We can give others “tattoos on their hearts” just as they can hold us and give us their own. After all, sometimes we forget that we all belong to each other.

Oh there is so much more to say, so many stories filled with Grace and unconditional love. But for today I’ll leave you with this video clip that I think is so powerful and had me with tears running down my cheeks as I prepared for book club to meet here last night. It is so good.

“Jesus says, ‘you are the light of the world.’ I like even more what Jesus doesn’t say. He does not say, “One day, if you are more perfect and try really hard, you’ll be light.” He doesn’t say ‘If you play by the rules, cross your T’s and dot your I’s, then maybe you’ll become light.’ No. He says, straight out, ‘You are light.’ It is the truth of who you are, waiting only for you to discover it. So, for God’s sake, don’t move. No need to contort yourself to be anything other than you are.”

Yes, our “true shape in God” isn’t something that we have to contort ourselves into being. We are already there.

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  1. Wow! I can’t wait to read this. I work in customer service and deal with ALL kinds of people. I pray every day on the way to work – 1) For safety (I work in a very public place and there are a lot of crazies out there), and 2) That people will leave better/filled with joy after interacting with me. We’ve all got issues and if I can make one person’s day a little brighter then I’ve done my job. 🙂 I’m going to see if our library has this book available. Thanks for sharing!

  2. His second book is just as good! G-Dog is amazing. We’ve also watched the documentary with our teenagers. I keep waiting for BYU to invite him to do a Tuesday devotional – wouldn’t that be the best?!

  3. The book sounds amazing. I love recommendations that push me out of my comfort reading zone. That video clip made me cry.

  4. He is featured on an episode of ON BEING with Krista Tippets and it is a great listen! I can’t wait to read this book.

  5. Just started Tattoos and then I check your blog today and you have this post! Can’t wait to get further along. I love it so far. So grateful for people who spread good. It keeps me feeling hopeful that we are going to be OK

  6. Oh man! My husband read that a while back and I’ve been meaning to pick it up! Thanks for the reminder! Sounds so beautiful!

  7. Thanks for sharing this, Shawni. It’s wonderful to see an example of someone living their faith like that. I’m currently working in Liberia, on an evaluation of a similar program – a group that provided therapy and coaching for ex-combatants and other high-risk young men, giving them new cognitive skills and helping them to see themselves as productive members of society. (More info here: https://www.poverty-action.org/study/impact-cognitive-behavior-therapy-and-cash-transfers-high-risk-young-men-liberia ) As a (admittedly somewhat lapsed) Catholic myself, I love reading the faith-based perspective.

  8. Oh man Shawni, this book made me cry so many times and now, your words here got me going again. You have captured this beautiful concept so beautifully! It’s what life is all about. You are truly “the shape of God’s heart” and you have done a miraculous job of finding that in others!

  9. One of my girls and I read this a number of years ago and LOVED it. Great message. Thanks for sharing it with others.

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