Column: cruel and beautiful

Madeline Sanders shares her experience with housing hurricane victims


“Then, I looked and saw the exhaustion on the mother’s face. The longing to be home in the teenage daughter’s eyes. I heard the two youngest daughters bouncing around upstairs, oblivious and full of life, but I knew they had to be frightened.”

By Madeline Sanders, Lovejoy High School

It is cruel. It is broken. It is menacing.

But it is beautiful.

The world we know today is full of heartbreak. Every day, headlines broadcast stories of catastrophic hurricanes, shootings, wars, massacres, fires, earthquakes, missile launch tests, and political feuds — just to name a few.

In the midst of the world’s heartbreak, Hurricane Harvey battered south Texas. It beat coastal cities down. It busted the floodgates open and rained havoc on millions of people.

People around the U.S. frantically packed tons of clothes, toothbrushes, diapers, and other necessities trying to do something, anything, to help those in areas where water was suffocating life.

Although these efforts did help, it only put a band-aid on a gunshot wound.

At first sight

I was first greeted by the wagging of a sweet, tiny animal that barely classifies as a dog. Then, I looked and saw the exhaustion on the mother’s face. The longing to be home in the teenage daughter’s eyes. I heard the two youngest daughters bouncing around upstairs, oblivious and full of life, but I knew they had to be frightened.

A week or so prior, my mom introduced me to the idea of offering up our home to evacuees from Harvey. She read an article in Texas Monthly stating that the best way to help victims was not by clothes or donations, but by opening up your home. She argued that since my sisters were out of the house and it was only me and her that we should let another family in need stay in our spare rooms.

In the moment, I was apathetic to the idea. It’s not that I didn’t feel the urge to help victims. I did. I just didn’t think the idea would actually become reality. So my responses and feelings were typical.

“Yeah, Mom.”



“Sounds good.”

A couple days later, I was laying in my mom’s bed doing homework and watching “Fixer Upper” — the usual —when she nonchalantly told me that we were going to have a family from the Port Arthur area come stay with us.

I did a double-take.

A multitude of questions followed. Who are they? Where are they from? What are their names and ages? How did she find them? What do they do? What are they like? The list went on and on. Annoyed by my nosiness, my mother replied.

“They’re from Orange, Texas.”

“There is a mom, a 15-year-old daughter, a 7-year-old, and a 6-year-old.”

“They found me on Airbnb. The company is letting homeowners rent out rooms to hurricane victims for free.”

“I don’t know much else.”

“Madeline, I already told you–I don’t know.”

“Oh my word, for the last time– I don’t know. Stop buggin’ me.”

In the days that followed, we cleaned. The scent of bleach mixed with lemon Pine-Sol formed an overwhelming cloud that permeated my house.

After that, we waited.

Then, on Sept. 7, they came, and I learned.


It was strange at first.

But a good kind of strange.

I am the youngest child in my family. So, having people younger than me living under the same roof was an adjustment, but it was a fun one. I loved seeing the two youngest girls’ sneaky faces as they slowly pried my door open to peak in as I was doing homework, and then realizing that I knew they were there. I loved watching them squeal and run around with my old dolls that had been collecting dust in the cabinets for years. I loved participating in their “mandatory” tea parties and showing them the proper way to pour the imaginary beverage into the tiny delicate glass. I loved seeing their personalities revealed and imagining what kind of people they might be five years from now when this was all over.

In the time we spent together, I heard their story. I saw it. I felt it. Left in the rising waters, a single-mother and her children. Abandoned by popular organizations claiming to provide relief. Brought to an unknown city, trying to find a way to survive. It was there. It was true. It was raw.

Airlifted to Dallas, the family stayed at a shelter for victims. While there, they met a woman who put them up in a hotel for a few nights. In the meantime, they contacted my family.

When they arrived, members from our community made sure they felt at home by sending new clothes, gifts, money, blankets, toys, and necessities to comfort them. These items meant so much to them, and I cannot thank those who contributed enough.

But as soon as they came, they had to go.

Their grandfather was repeatedly hospitalized, trapped in a cycle of poor health. They needed to be there to support him. They didn’t want to leave, but they needed to. A classic tale of selflessness. So they went.


What would have been three weeks turned into four days, but everything happens in its own time for a reason. In those few days we housed them, we got to show them God’s love. We got to show them they are cared for. We got to give them what they needed. And that is more than anything we could have asked for.

With them, I learned about selflessness. I learned about patience. I learned how truly fortunate we, who live in this area, are. I learned about the beautiful perseverance of the human spirit. I learned more about the real world and life than I ever could have in my 13 years in primary education. And I’m beyond thankful for that.

Indeed, this world is cruel.

But it’s even more beautiful.

Read the original story here