The following is an excerpt from I Know What Heaven Looks Like by Lawrence T. Richardson. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers.
From chapter 1 of I Know What Heaven Looks Like by Lawrence T. Richardson
I dressed quickly once we entered the basement. I didn’t feel any different immediately after my baptism, but my skin seemed more sensitive and I was keenly aware of the clothes I was wearing and how ashamed I felt because I couldn’t wear slacks and a dress shirt or a suit like other boys at church.
When we returned to the sanctuary it was time for my first communion as a new member of the church—God’s family. The preacher who was now dried and wearing an even heavier, white preacher’s robe, was standing behind a large wooden table at the front of the room.
The table was covered with brass plates of wafers and stacked brass trays of tiny plastic cups filled with grape juice. After he read the Bible passage commemorating the sacred act and recounting the details from the night Jesus shared a similar meal with his friends, the preacher held up one tray and one plate and handed the dishes to the communion assistants who were now lined up at the table waiting to receive the elements that they would distribute among the congregation.
Let us break bread together, on our knees… The choir erupted in song and the band began to play. When the trays passed my grandmother and me, she picked up two cups and a wafer, and instructed me to get a wafer as well.
“I’ll hold your juice so that you don’t spill any of it on your pretty dress,” she whispered loudly over the music. “Now this represents the blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that was shed on Calvary.” She lifted the cups in the air.
“What’s this for?” I asked, thrusting my wafer in the air trying to mimic her. The small circle was hard and felt like cardboard.
“This represents the body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that was broken for us on Calvary!” She proudly raised her wafer in the air and smiled down at me.
Fascinated by the tiny cross that was embossed upon it, I yelled, “Why does it have a T on it?”
“Shush…not so loud. That’s the cross on Calvary where Jesus hung his head and died for you and me. Every time you eat this, remember Jesus!” she said.
My grandmother turned her attention away from me and joined the others who were singing.
Let us drink wine together, on our knees…
I sat back in the pew and studied the wafer in my hand. I pressed my thumb into the center of the wafer and broke it into even tinier pieces wondering how many times Christ’s body could be broken up. A few moments later, my grandmother leaned down and said, “You need to eat the wafer before you can drink the juice.”
She didn’t explain why, and she hadn’t noticed my destruction of the body, but as I saw her put the tiny cup to her lips and consume its contents, I quickly scraped up the wafer pieces into my hand that were formed into a little mountain on the pew cushion next to me. I scooped the pieces into my mouth, stood up, and extended my hand to receive my cup from my grandmother. I braced myself against the back of the pew in front of us and leaned my head back. My lips puckered as my mouth filled with the tangy sweetness and I wondered if Jesus’ blood really tasted like grapes.
“You may be seated,” the pastor announced. “Let us now prepare to hear the word of God.”
We returned to our seats and passed the emptied cups down the aisle to be collected. “Thanks be to God,” we responded in unison.
The musicians began to play again, this time, to transition us further along the order of worship to the scripture reading that happened just before the preacher began his sermon.
My agitation with my clothes quietly continued.
I arrived at church that day with one pair of panties, and since I left them on during the baptism, they were wet and had to be taken off before I put back on my dress clothes. I squirmed around in the pew picking at my tights, thinking that if I could shift them, I’d feel some relief.
“Settle down now,” my grandmother whispered as she pinched a small piece of my arm flesh between her thumb and index finger. She enjoyed my interest in church, but she also enjoyed this time for her own relief. As she surrendered to the Spirit, her arms flung up overhead and she greeted the pastor’s presence at the podium with, “Amen.”
I crawled under the pew like I usually did when I was bored, exploring, or agitated, and I laid back on the carpeted floor.
Praise for I Know What Heaven Looks Like
“Lawrence tells an authentic story of growing up hiding his true self in an effort to be accepted and loved by people with more baggage than sense, more anger than love, more meanness of spirit than Kindness of heart. Through his gramma and church he survived the early years, but when his need to be true to himself became overwhelming, he lost that support from his life. A powerful story, heartfelt and true.”
“The book was an amazing show of the author’s strength and fierce faith in God. There were difficult moments, and many that I could relate to my own life. The inspiring part was seeing what a difference the love and guidance of one special person can make to a child in the hardest situations. It would be easy to focus on all of the negative things happening around the author, but instead we see the relentless drive to find the positive side of life. And the ability to forgive is so strong with this author, and astounding to behold at times! We are invited to go on the journey with him, and learn about ourselves by reflecting on the process.”
“His vulnerability, resilience, and humor blew me away. It is, at times, a harrowing read, as he recounts his childhood experiences of poverty, neglect, and abuse. But it is also a story of finding faith and a calling to ministry and how those brought healing and hope. Then it is also the story of a gender transition and the violent reaction that initially generates from family and his faith tradition. This is a powerful book. I recommend it.”
“I didn’t want to stop reading! This story is captivating all the way through. It makes you question humanity, examine your own life choices, while thinking about God and how it all relates. This is a must read! Real life stories that are truthful, raw, and honest like this one, make your world a bigger place. I am impressed by the authentic self shared in this book, calling each one of us to be our truest self created by God.”
About the Author
Lawrence Tanner Richardson, a Minnesota native, is a pastor, writer, leadership coach and public speaker. Lawrence is a Pastor at Linden Hills United Church of Christ and a media trainer with Auburn Seminary. He does leadership coaching with The Center for Progressive Renewal and he writes for The Salt Collective.