Those who have read any portion of my Blest Atheist book or blog by the same name are well aware of the immense abuse suffered during our childhood by me and my seven siblings, monikered "the 8-pack" by Rollie, one of my younger brothers. Although my sister Katrina never planned on growing up, certain that she would be killed by my mother sometime before achieving adulthood, we did indeed all survive extensive physical abuse (e.g., being stabbed, thrown into walls, kicked into unconsciousness, and the like), emotional abuse (e.g., being sat on a staircase and listening to my mother, who held a can of kerosene and a book of matches in her hands, tell us how she was going to set us on fire), and sexual abuse (various male relatives had their way with both the boys and the girls on a regular, nearly weekly, basis). We had each other for support: the 8-pack was very important to all of us in an age when neighbors and teachers looked the other way. As an atheist, I assumed that I, as the oldest, needed to stand up to Ma and the other abusers in our lives in order to encourage the younger kids. My brother, Rollie, says that for him and the others I was the real father in the house. It was not easy; as an atheist, I had only my own internal fortitude for personal support -- and, of course, the courage that springs almost unbidden when one must fight for people one loves, whether those be children, friends, employees, or, in this case, siblings. Remarkably, contrary to what most of today's doctors or psychologists would expect, we all reached adulthood not only in one piece but without any long-lasting evidence of physical abuse or any significant emotional scars.
After coming to faith, I commented to God, “If only I had had You with me during those earlier, difficult days, how much easier it would have been.” To that, the quiet but impressive Voice that to this day startles me when I hear it, responded “I was with you.” Had I only known...
Telling this one day to my sister, Danielle, I also remarked that I found it unfathomable as to why we would be so protected by God, especially since clearly not everyone is. Why should we receive special treatment? She looked at me curiously and said, "I thought you knew."
"Knew what?" I asked.
"What the boys [our younger brothers] knew. What all the rest of us kids knew."
"The very first thing I remember in my entire life -- perhaps I was only two or three years old -- was realizing what a predicament we were in, and I said a prayer: "Dear God, Dad is gone all the time, and Ma is a child. So, would you please raise us?"
I have since wondered if the answer to my question about why we grew up intact, why we seemed to have been protected (no infections from some very deep stabs, no improper healing of broken bones, no low self-esteem), why we all grew up to be be extremely ethical and moral (even, in my case, as an atheist), could be that simple. Could the explanation simply be that God chose to answer the prayer of a precocious three-year-old?