York Town Square

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‘Sandpaper Sisters’ rubs readers right way

sandA recommended New Year’s resolution is to read some of the fine books put forth by York County authors.
Such books often tell much about our county, its people and the way they interact.
Michele McKnight Baker’s “Sandpaper Sisters” is one such book.
Without disclosing her identity, the author lived at New Life for Girls treatment centers, faith-based group homes for recovering addicts, in the Dover area and Westminster, Md.
She tells about her experiences in her book, drawing her title from special relationships within the centers.
“It is someone who rubs you the wrong way at first but is able to sand the rough edges in a spirit of caring,” Baker wrote.
Among other things, the book offers insight into women who live in the facility, visit local places during their stay and sometimes reside in York County after their successful treatment.
The book is packed with neat stories, two of which we used in the York Daily Record’s Christmas editorial:

‘I realized he was Jesus’
A van full of women from Dover’s New Life for Girls pulled up to a church in York.
The mixed-race group of 14 women were there for a seminar, invited by a New Life alumnus who was a member of that church.
A lavish reception awaited the women from New life, a Christian ministry for recovering addicts, and other conference-goers. Shrimp and other fancy finger foods. Tables crowded with desserts and snacks.
But soon, an uncomfortable feeling crept over two of the New Life women.
A small group of older women were huddled across the way, whispering to each other.
“These women are guarding their purses,” the visitors from New Life observed.
* * *
Spring Grove author Michele McKnight Baker told this troubling story in her nationally distributed book “Sandpaper Sisters, Addicts Turned Community Builders.”
Such elitism from church people is just the opposite of the example set forth in the life and death of Jesus, whose birth Christians are celebrating today.
Christians believe Jesus came humbly, grew up as a laborer’s son, moved among the destitute and died penniless and painfully.
Where would Jesus have been if part of that seminar in the York church?
Not eyeing his purse.
He didn’t carry money.
And not separating himself from those different from himself.
He ministered to lepers.
* * *
Contrast the story in the York church with another recounted by Michele Baker in “Sandpaper Sisters.”
The author met a homeless man at a neighborhood festival in Cincinnati.
During lunch, she sat next to the man, an encounter that initially repulsed her.
“He limped, was hunched over, trollish, and possibly retarded. His skin was so disfigured, as if burnt, that I could not guess his race or age. He had no teeth and gummed his burger. He squinted at me through rheumy eyes. His body odor was so overpowering, I could barely keep from retching,” she wrote.
Another man and two children also sat at the picnic table. They kept to themselves.
The homeless man greeted her, asked her name and introduced himself at Enu.
Would there be seconds? he wondered.
No, she said, offering him her cookies.
He smiled and patted her knee.
They ate in silence.
The rest from the author: “After I finished my burger, I stood and said goodbye. My back was turned to him when Enu spoke, ‘Goodbye Michele.’
“I turned, surprised (no one else remembered my name) and he said, ‘I love you, Michele.’ Then he disappeared into the crowd.
“At that moment, I knew him, the way you recognize a celebrity or a friend you have not seen for years. I realized he was Jesus.”
This was not a Yuletide festival.
But this story is filled with poignant Christmas themes, bringing forth, for example, the biblical verse: “… if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”