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Chapter 1: Judd The RunawayJudd Thompson Jr. had always hated having the same name as his father. Until now.
Every time the phone rang and someone asked for Judd, it was "Which one? Big Judd or Little Judd?" The funny thing was, Little Judd was already taller than his father. He had just gotten his driver's license, and the whiskers on his chin formed a thin goatee. He was tired of being called Junior, and if he were never called Little Judd again for the rest of his life, it would be too soon.
But now, for once, being Judd Thompson Jr. was working in Judd's favor.
This break was meant to be, Judd decided. After days of fighting with his parents about where he was going, who he was with, what he was doing, and how late he would be in, he had just happened to be home one afternoon. And his mother picked that day to ask him to bring in the mail. If that didn't prove this was meant to be, Judd didn't know what did.
Judd sighed loudly at his mother's request. She said he acted like any small chore or favor was the biggest burden in the world. That was exactly how he felt. He didn't want to be told to do anything.
"Why can't you get it?" he asked her.
"Because I asked you to," she said.
"Why do I have to do everything?"
"Would you like to compare what you do around here with what I do?" she asked, and that began the usual argument. Only when his mother threatened to ground him did he stomp out to the mailbox. He was glad he did.
On the way back to the house, idly flipping through catalogs and letters and magazines, he had found itan envelope addressed to him. It was clearly a mistakeobviously intended for his father. He knew thatas soon as he saw it. It was business mail. He didn't recognize the return address.
Just to be ornery, he slipped it inside his jacket and gave the rest of the mail to his mother. Well, he didn't actually give it to her. He tossed it onto the kitchen table in front of her, and half of it slid to the floor. He headed to his room.
"Just a minute, young man," she said, using another of his least favorite names. "Get back here and give me this mail properly."
"In a minute," he said, jogging up the steps.
"Oh, never mind," she said. "By the time you get back here, I'll have it picked up, read, and answered."
"You're welcome!" he hollered.
"A job not finished is not worthy of a thank-you," she said. "But thanks anyway."
Judd took off his jacket, cranked up his music, and lay on his bed, opening the envelope. Onto his chest dropped a credit card in his name, Judd Thompson Jr. A sticker on it told him to call a toll-free number and answer a few questions so he could begin using the card. The letter told him they had honored his request. He could spend tens of thousands of dollars using that card alone.
Judd couldn't believe his luck. He dialed the number and was asked his mother's maiden name and his date of birth. He knew enough to use his grandmother's maiden name and his father's birthday. This was, after all, really his father's card, wrong name or not. The automated voice told Judd he could begin using the card immediately.
It was then that he planned his escape.
Judd felt desperate to get away. He wasn't sure what had happened or why, but he was sure his family was the problem.
Judd's father owned a business in Chicago and was wealthy. His mother had never had to work outside the home. Judd's little brother and sister, nine-year-old twins Marc and Marcie, were young enough to stay out of his hair. They were OK, he guessed.
Marc's and Marcie's rooms were full of trophies from church, the same as Judd's had once been. He had really been into that stuff, memorizing Bible verses, going to camp every summer, all that.
But when Judd had gone from the junior high to the senior high youth group at New Hope Village Church in Mount Prospect, Illinois, he seemed to lose interest overnight. He used to invite his friends to church and youth group. Now he was embarrassed to say his parents made him go.
Judd felt he had outgrown church. It had been OK when he was a kid, but now nobody wanted to dress like he did, listen to his kind of music, or have a little fun. At school he hung with kids who got to make their own decisions and do what they wanted to do. That was all he wanted. A little freedom.
Even though they could afford it, Judd's parents refused to buy him his own car. How many other high school juniors still rode the bus to school? When Judd did get to drive one of his parents' cars, one of them told him where he could go, whom he could go with, what he could do, and when he had to be back.
If only his parents knew what he was doing when they thought he was just out with the guys," Judd thought. How he hated his curfew, his parents' constant watch over his schoolwork, their criticizing his hair, his clothes, and his friends.
Worst of all, he was grounded if he didn't get up for Sunday school and church every Sunday. Just the Sunday before, he had put up such a fuss that his mother had come into his room and sat on his bed. "Don't you love Jesus anymore?" she asked.
What a stupid question, Judd thought. He didn't remember ever really loving Jesus. Oh, he had liked all the stories and knew a lot of verses. But loving Jesus? Loving God? That was for little kids and old ladies. But what could he say to his mother?
"If you want the truth, I only go to church so I can go out on weekends and use the car."
That was clearly not what she had wanted to hear. "All right then, just forget it!" she said.
"I can stay home from church?"
"If you don't want to go anywhere for a week."
Judd swore under his breath. It was a good thing his mother hadn't heard that. He'd have been grounded for life.
In Sunday school, Judd copped an attitude. He wore clothes his parents only barely approved of, and he stayed as far away as possible from the "good" kids. What losers! They never had any, fun. Judd didn't smile, didn't carry a Bible, didn't look at the teacher, didn't say anything. When the teacher asked his opinion of something, he shrugged. He wanted everyone to know he was there only because he had to be.
In church, he slouched when his father wasn't looking. He wanted to burrow within himself and just make it through to the end of the service. He didn't sing along, he didn't bow his head during prayer, he didn't shut his eyes. No one had ever said those were rules; Judd was simply trying to be different from everyone else. He was way too cool for this stuff.
As usual, Pastor Vernon Billings got off on his kick about what he called the Rapture. "Someday," he said, "Jesus will return to take his followers to heaven. Those who have received him will disappear in the time it takes to blink your eye. We will disappear right in front of disbelieving people. Won't that be a great day for us and a horrifying one for them?"
The kindly old pastor talked about how important it was for everyone to be sure of his own standing before God and to think and pray about friends and loved ones who might not be ready. Judd's little secret was that he had never really believed any of that.
He'd had enough chances. At vacation Bible school, his friends had prayed and received Christ. He was embarrassed. He told them he had already done that at home. At camp a few years later, Judd felt guilty and sinful when a young speaker talked about church kids who weren't really Christian believers. He had wanted to go forward; he really had. But he had also just been named Camper of the Week for memorizing a bunch of Bible verses and being the fastest to look up some others...