You Belong with Him

What is our deepest desire? For many of us, what is we want the most?

Think about it. Really think about it.

When we go into a new space. Whether a new job, a new school, a new group, a new place. When we are among new people, or people we have known for a number of years. When we are searching for that special someone. A new church. That place we will drop our kids off for care each day. What exactly are we longing for? What elements are we seeking?

Acceptance. A place to belong. That’s what we are looking for. And in these places, will we find it? Even in places we have been for long times, surrounded by people who smile, laugh, and sit among us-do we always feel it? Like we belong?

Or do we feel something like this?

Just a little unseen
Always on the outside looking in
Just a little unsure
Uncomfortable in my own skin

Hiding in the shadows looking on
Holding out for someone I’ll become
Waiting on the words I’ve burned to hear for so long. “You Belong,” Francesca Battistelli

A need to change who we are to fit in certain spaces? A feeling of loneliness even in places surrounded by lots of people? The feeling that the people who have known us the longest still don’t “get” us no matter how much we talk, try to tell our stories, or seek to be understood?

There is a place we belong. One who sees us. Knows us. Understands us. And from whom we don’t have to hide or pretend.

It’s God. He knows us deeply. So deeply. Intricately.

You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb. Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. Psalm 139:13-16, NLT

Isn’t that intricate indeed?

And He longs for us to know how deeply we are loved immensely by Him. He longs for us to know how we fit in His plan. He desires we stop trying to seek acceptance and belonging from things and places that just can’t fill this deep longing we have. Cannot know us in the exact way the Psalmist has described. We can try, but it just won’t be the same. It will not come close.

Are you ready to belong? To truly belong? Then maybe it’s time to belong to Him.

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It’s Time to Break-up…

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

Yesterday, I mentioned a group of 3 girls. That group and their negative comments that had sucked the life out of me. Even in the midst of correction for their poor choices in words, there was an additional lesson in my encouragment to speak kindness to each other: Would you tolerate this negativity in a romantic relationship? If the boy you liked, or you were dating called you “fat, ugly, stupid, or crazy…” and then proceeded to tell you he was “just joking,” would you allow it? Or would you break-up with him?

Of course, their response? Kick him to the curb.

So, question for you: Why do we allow these terms to define us? Why do we allow Satan to creep in and tell us lies? Badger us with his emotional assault, and endless abuse? Isn’t it time to break-up with him, too?

Fear, you don’t own me
There ain’t no room in this story
And I ain’t got time for you
Telling me what I’m not
Like you know me, well guess what?
I know who I am
I know I’m strong
And I am free
Got my own identity
So fear, you will never be welcome here. (The Break-up
Song, Francesca Battistelli).

Fear. Lies. The devil’s tactic to keep you in a state of defeat. But the truth is…you can defeat the enemy. Paul mentions a strategy for battle in Ephesians 6, even mentioning who this enemy is.

We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:12-17, NLT

We have an enemy who feeds us nothing but lies about our worth and our purpose, our calling. And we know exactly how to break up with him. We CAN defeat him. With the belt of truth, and the sword of the Spirit, those things that God says are “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable” about us in His Word. Remebering that God offers protection from the evil one simply because we are His. We just need to call on Him to help us fight the battle.

So we can finally break-up with that no good scroundrel…once and for all!

If you are ready to break-up with the devil, and conquer the lies he throws your way, join me for a 30 day exploration of the lies we believe, and the truth God reveals. The printable Bible reading plan includes daily Scripture, as well as a song you can add to your playlist, or sing along with in the car in praise for the truth God provides to you and about you. Truth that is able to conquer any lie.

You can also subscribe to the entire playlist on Spotify.

Don’t Believe the Lies

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2

I have been vocal in past posts about my thoughts on, and my desire for boundaries when it comes to social media. In my last social media fast, I came to the realizaton that some of my thoughts may have even been extreme. Maybe even unhealthy. My use of social media is personal, and not everyone will go on the same journey, and it is through this perspective that I have developed some different views, and healthier personal usage.

One thing, however, has not changed-my views on that comment section.

We all wanna know we matter
We all wanna know we’re loved
More the same than we are different
Desperate just to be enough

But it’s like we’ve all forgotten
How much we’re all connected
When I read the comment section. -Sidewalk Prophets

This song, “The Comment Section,” is about the hurtful comments posted in the comment section by individuals behind a screen, and the descriptions throughout it are pretty accurate. What is even more discouraging, is that at times this type of commentary flows into our personal, and face-to-face conversations.

Case in point: I lead a monthly girls group. 3 girls. Supposedly friends working through a self-esteem exercise; but in this past week’s group, spending most of the time poking fun at each other, and spewing hurtful comments about each other’s features, bodies, and minds. “Fat, ugly, dumb.” After more than an hour of this, the life had been sucked out of me. The hurtful back and forth banter disguised as “joking,” wrecked my spirit, and I carried it with me into the weekend. Why is this language among each other acceptable? Why do we poke fun to have fun? Why do we desire to hurt each other? Over time, whether read or heard-these comments leave scars no one can see. Doubts that carry on long after words have been spoken.

With each comment and verbal slur of judgment, we begin to believe all the lies said about us. That interaction in group was only a part of the onslaught of lies Satan threw at me throughout that week. All due to triggers that were reminders of my past. A reminder of an older name that had me believing divorced women truly were not fit to pastor. An email that was a reminder of all the past events that made me feel unworthy and unqualified. The consistent “uglies, fats” and everything else I heard on that day was the last straw.

I refuse to let Satan continue to throw lies at me. I refuse to let the own comment section I allow to scroll in my head define me.

I struggled with what topic to focus on this month. With whether to even do a monthly reading plan. With May holding space for Mother’s Day, themes of parenting or being a mother seemed to fit; however, not everyone fits this description. Yet, this very moment in life-motherhood; it can fill us with so many inadequcies. We have so many doubts about our abilities, and we tend to compare ourselves with so many others. Thinking they have it all right, and we have it all wrong.

But, it’s all lies. We tend to believe so many lies.

This month, we will be defeating those lies. The lies we believe about ourselves (and even others) because of the world’s vision that we all comform to one ideal. The lies that tell us we need to be a certain way, parent a certain way, or anything else a certain way to be approved. Through Scripture and song, we will discover the truth the world often shuts out, if you only read the comment section.

Because here is the truth: God has made us good, pleasing, and perfect, among so many other things. It is time we believe this, instead of all the lies the devil may feed us.

Be sure to visit tomorrow for a copy of the newest 30 day Bible reading plan, with a link to the playlist of each song, so you can also listen to truth all month long!

Promises of God: A Family

Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. Ephesians 1:4-5

When we go to work, we likely build connections with others during our day to day interactions. This is the place where we spend a lot of our time. At least 8 hours of our day, more than likely 5 days a week. We may spend more time with our co-workers than the family we have at home. We may even crave this connection and time away from the demands of parenting. We share big moments, trials, triumphs. These people become like our family.

But what happens if you don’t have that? If you, on a daily basis, don’t have this family-like connection with others in your workplace?

Prior to COVID, my day to day role as a mental health professional placed me in a local school setting throughout the year. This was my “placement” and my assignment for the entire school year, or longer if I desired. I spent each day in the buildings I was placed with the staff and students. I become part of their daily lives. I was connected. Part of each individual school family, even if my name badge indicated I worked for an outside agency. I had a work family.

It has been 2 years since COVID shut down schools for the better part of over a year. These days I shuffle back and forth between 5 different spaces during the week. Some on the same day. Most days I appear as a random face who is popping into a building for a couple hours a day, once a week. I don’t know most of the people. Don’t even know their names. Certain they don’t know mine either. My work family now consists of people across phone lines in another region most days, and I feel disconnected from the many places in which I spend my day. Like I don’t belong. Like I am still searching for my family.

The second scenario is how many of us go through life. Feeling distant from others. Shuffling from place to place, trying to find a spot where we belong. A place that makes us feel like we are connected. Loved. Wanted. A family.

But to all who believed in him and accepted him, he gave the right to be called, children of God. John 1:12

When we seek God, repent, and accept His grace, we become part of His family. We are no longer disconnected because we are now connected with our Father. And with that connection comes all the perks of being part of a family. We have someone to comfort us in times of sorrow, to share in our joy. And we become united with other brothers and sisters within His church. Working together to fulfill one mission. We no longer have to feel as if we don’t belong, or are just wandering from place to place. We have finally found a home. A family. With Him.

If you are still wandering from place to place today, desperately looking for a connection. A family, some place to call home-why not call on God? He promises to adopt you as His own, and He doesn’t care what company is listed on your name badge. He desires that you be part of His family. He has a place waiting just for you.

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They Don’t Know You; God Does

I woke up distracted this morning.  

I make a vow during my time with God to not use my phone, but I found this morning I spent a large amount of time on it. Good things had happened in the last couple days. A new energy was all around. A new “stepping into.” Prayers that had been prayed it had been revealed, had also been prayed in the “meanwhile” elsewhere.

So…my distraction was most certainly a rouse from Satan. An attack. A countermeasure for me to not move into what was coming. What lies ahead. What good was before me.

In the distraction came doubt. 

If you think after you accept Christ, that Satan leaves you alone-think again. If you think because you are a pastor, you are immune to an attack from the evil one-think again. In actuality, you are more susceptible. You are the one he really wants. You are the one he loves to get to. Because if he can get to you, well then he can get to more of God’s people. 

He uses distraction to get to me often. And it occurs frequently on my phone. With social media. Not all social media. One in particular. That ole place where you find the people you are supposed to know. And you connect to them. In the hopes to what? I’ve only just begun to really figure it out.

I don’t know at what point I started feeling lonely. Unsupported. Inadequate. Shamed. It may have been a post about alcohol. And the things I knew had been said about alcohol in the past. It may have been the people I “knew” here who I didn’t really know anymore. Who I didn’t really feel much support from. Who didn’t really hype me up in the way strangers often did. 

Who knew my past, and the past of others I know, and for whatever reason remained stuck there. In the past. 

But, the people we knew in our past don’t often celebrate the fact that you have cast-off your old life and chosen a new one. Why? 

They want to remember the person they knew. The person that was chained to poor patterns and toxic behaviors. The person who allowed them to be, too. They are so tied to the old you, and their own patterns, they can’t accept that a new person can be made from that old mess. They remember your Saul.

Those other people? The people who didn’t know that old you. They see something of inspiration, and they want more. They support you. As you are now. You don’t remind them of a past they can’t seem to get themselves out of. To them, you are Paul.

I was asked this question recently: “Why do you want to become an ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene?”

I realize I can go online and be ordained for 50 bucks. I can do that all while continuing to live in the sin and shame I had been living in before. But God didn’t want that for me.

If someone had told me in my teens I would one day be a pastor, I would have laughed at them. I didn’t go to church. I can count on one hand the times I did. I didn’t particularly like God. I made many a wrong turn, and yes-just like most in my hometown some of those wrong turns led to shameful decisions. 

But God.

He made me new. Those decisions don’t shape me anymore. I am still January at the core. I am just not led by my desires. My impulses. But by my Father. His desires. His will. My only gain is to inspire someone to see that if God can do that for me, He can do that for anyone. Anyone who doesn’t want to be defined by their past. Anyone who doesn’t care who knows what about them, but wants to be known by a God who knows everything about them and approves and loves them anyway.

Don’t get distracted by those who knew you, and only talk about your past. Get distracted by the God who knows all about you, and wants you to know Him, too. 

Through You They May Know Him

I didn’t know if I could do it. Yet again. Have another conversation with another grieving relative. The fourth in less than two weeks. Countless in the last couple years. The number of people who had lost loved ones due to various reasons over this pandemic is astounding. The number of times I have processed grief the same, while shutting off my own emotions on the topic.

I was hesitant to make the call. To check-in. To offer “condolences,” and all those words that are supposed to sound so pleasant and helpful but end up just sounding so flat. My heart was heavy, and I didn’t know how many more conversations I could have like this one. The phone interrupted my thoughts. Interrupted me as I dialed the number.

Yes, this is Ms. January. Sure, I have time to talk.

“She talks so much about you. She mentions Ms. January all the time, so I had to call to see if you could help.”

I didn’t get it. I hadn’t seen her in weeks. She had likely been avoiding me. Teens often do when adults hold them accountable, and I am the kind that well, holds them accountable.

This didn’t make sense to me.

Until it did.

In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see. Matthew 5:16

Christ. He lives in me. Once accepted, he made me new. He placed a spirit within me that meant I also possess a certain light-the light of His love. His mercy. His grace. Sometimes it doesn’t require I say anything. Or that when I do, I do so in love. Still holding accountable for choices that are not the best, but always with the purpose of moving someone to a place of growth. Never condemnation or shame.

I may never speak the name of Jesus in the places I walk into. In the office spaces I occupy. In the halls in which I walk.

But…I can be certain of this: They will encounter Him though my actions. My words. My love.

If they never see a church pew. If they never sing a hymn, they will at least have encountered Him. They will see His grace and His light through me.

Welcomed As You Are

Saturday morning started as any other morning. Cleaning. Listening to music. The same playlist I always listen to. And then I heard it. A song. One I had undoubtedly added because at some point it had touched me in much the same way it was now. Had me stop. Think about the words. These words:

There’s no need for any hiding
In the Father’s house you’re met with open arms
And He gives grace without conditions
As you are, with nothing else, just come. -Life.Church Worship

It made me think of a story. A story of another father.

To illustrate the point further, Jesus told them this story: “A man had two sons. The younger son told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now before you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. “A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and moved to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money in wild living. About the time his money ran out, a great famine swept over the land, and he began to starve. He persuaded a local farmer to hire him, and the man sent him into his fields to feed the pigs. The young man became so hungry that even the pods he was feeding the pigs looked good to him. But no one gave him anything. “When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.”’ “So he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him. His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. “But his father said to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. Get a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet. And kill the calf we have been fattening. We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.’ So the party began. Luke 15:11-25, NLT

Maybe you won’t come because you left. You left and squandered what you were given. You were living with the pigs and now you are worried what people will say.

Maybe you don’t know a father like the one described in this story, so you can’t even imagine one welcoming you this way. Yours was critical. His love was conditional. Only given if you met certain expectations. Maybe he was even absent. Or he’s not a father you want to be like.

But this story doesn’t describe him. It describes your Heavenly Father.

And He welcomes you. As you are. And He won’t leave you there.

Come as you are. Let Him love you. Change you. Make you new. 

And to hear the other songs that speak to me, and make up the Saturday morning cleaning playlist, you can listen here:

How not to be forgotten?

Have you ever taken a look through your senior yearbook? Glanced at that superlative section? The one that listed the best looking? Most athletic? Best dressed? Most unforgettable? Then wondered who they were? Because well…you forgot them.

I have been thinking recently about this: What makes someone unforgettable? Or in the same way, what makes them just someone we used to know?

First, what does it mean to be unforgettable? Well by definition-“incapable of being erased, or impressed on the memory” (Merriam-Webster). But are the things impressed on our memory simply things? Rewards? Accomplishments? Beauty? Brains? Maybe. But I think it’s something more. Much more.

The lyrics from the song “How They Remember You” by Rascal Flatts confirms what I have wondered for some time: It ain’t a question of if they will
It’s how they remember you

Will I leave an impression unable to be erased, or be someone somebody simply used to know?

And if that memory can’t be erased, what will it leave?

Did you stand or did you fall?
Build a bridge or build a wall

Hide your love or give it all
What did you do? What did you do?
Did you make ’em laugh or make ’em cry?

Did you quit or did you try?
Live your dreams or let ’em die?
What did you choose? What did you choose?

Did you welcome, or did you make them feel like an outcast? Did you support and encourage, or did you hinder and tear down? Did you offer praise, or do nothing but complain and criticize? Did you help when others needed it, and were lost; or did you leave them lonely and trying to navigate the losses alone? Did you show love or hate? Make people feel seen and heard; or unwanted and unloveable? Safe or rejected?

Which one were you?

Which one would you choose?

How do you want others to remember you?

It is what it is

The phrase in the picture above. It’s one of my favorites. Coined by my bestie and I to remind ourselves to not worry over things we can’t control. It has carried us through tough things. Even trivial nuisances. I even have a bracelet to commemorate our adoption of the phrase.

However, I heard in a sermon on-line in the past not to say the phrase. Not to use it at all. Like…what???

But it’s my favorite. What do you mean, don’t say it?

For a while I felt a bit convicted about it. Caught myself every time it came out of my mouth. Stopped wearing that bracelet.

But then I started therapy. Started working on acceptance. Of myself. Of life in general. It’s ebbs and flows. What God allows, and what He allows to remain a mystery. What He controls. What He gives me the power to control. What He allows to remain, be. What for Him just “is.”

And I realized “it is what it is.” Most things about this life are simply that.

It’s the hard, straight-up, honest truth.

People don’t like me. “It is what it is.” I can stress over it. Mold myself to fit into boxes He never wanted me to fit into. Or I can accept the fact that some people just won’t like me. Just never will, and be OK with it. I like me. And so does He.

People disappoint. “It is what it is.” We are flawed humans. We hurt. It’s a part of our sin-filled nature. A manifestation of the fall. I can sit and wallow in the hurt, or I can forgive and move on. Create better boundaries, and hope I don’t get hurt in the same way again. Learn from it, so that I don’t dare do the same to anyone else.

Change will come. Both good and bad. “It is what it is.” Some change I will like and I will embrace with open arms. Other change I won’t like so much, and I will fight like crazy to avoid. But fighting won’t keep change from coming. Avoiding won’t keep change from coming. It still comes.

Life has ups and downs. It comes with some worries. Some big. Some small. “It is what it is.” It’s the price paid for living until we see the promised land. I can either wallow in worry endlessly, or I can relish in the fact that there isn’t a worry or a trial He has not seen me through. Even if some have been harder than others.

“It is what it is.”

I am not accepting defeat here. I am not laying down my flag and saying that life has no meaning. No purpose. Or that suffering will always be this way (though the Bible does tell us we will have suffering here….).

What I am saying is, for me…I am accepting life as it comes. I can go through it in a constant state of panic, defeat, or sadness. Or I can let life ebb and flow as it will. I can let God handle things as He will anyway.

It is what it is, because He is what He is.

On finding acceptance in an old hometown

Hometowns. They can bring such feelings of security. Safety. The feeling of being at home. But there’s a flip side. Those hometowns often become the place we never feel at home. Not accepted. Only remembered for all the mistakes you made. A person you likely are not anymore

Jesus was no stranger to being rejected by His own hometown.

He left there and returned to his hometown. His disciples came along. On the Sabbath, he gave a lecture in the meeting place. He stole the show, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise all of a sudden, get such ability?”But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “He’s just a carpenter—Mary’s boy. We’ve known him since he was a kid. We know his brothers, James, Justus, Jude, and Simon, and his sisters. Who does he think he is?” They tripped over what little they knew about him and fell, sprawling. And they never got any further. Jesus told them, “A prophet has little honor in his hometown, among his relatives, on the streets he played in as a child.” Jesus wasn’t able to do much of anything there—he laid hands on a few sick people and healed them, that’s all. He couldn’t get over their stubbornness. He left and made a circuit of the other villages, teaching. Mark 6:1-6 MSG

This passage was one we discussed in our Sunday services. I pastor a small congregation of Liberian refugees. Their hometown is nothing like mine. Our experiences vastly different. They left their hometown and fleed from an entire continent to a foreign land. I never left mine.

Regardless of the differences, our hometowns have certain opinions and expectations of us. Because of who we were, and because of who we are now.

The same was true for Jesus. He went back to Nazareth, his hometown. He spent time teaching about His Father, the path to righteousness, and what did his peers do? Remembered his prior occupation. Took note of his family history. Who he had been, not who he was. Who he had become.

This kind of stuff is the way of life when you consider small towns. If Jesus, the Son of God was no stranger, certainly we are not either. It’s honestly pervasive throughout our human, earthly experience.

We gossip. We talk about people we don’t even know based on something someone said about a person they “used” to know. Or were hurt by. We take that as the gospel and run with it, and we fail to look beyond.

We only see what man sees.

A “new” person, as one who has “become” someone else. Left our past mistakes behind, we are only remembered for our old life by those who knew us. Know our family. Our past. We are still reduced to our past mistakes. Things we did then that we no longer do. Those who knew us then, only remember our family legacy. We can’t seem to rise up and be accepted in our born place, because so many are holding on to a person we have given to Christ. A person transformed.

A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family. Mark 6:4, NLT

Sometimes we can’t transform and flourish in our own hometowns.

Ever heard the phrase “the proof is in the pudding?” What this means, is that the proof of its true value. Its true effectiveness. Its true success. Its power is in “eating.” In tasting what was produced. Food aside, and inserting people-its in actually interacting. Knowing, and being around these people. Tasting that the fruit produced by the Holy Spirit is good. It’s not based on what you hear. What someone else’s opinion is, because not everyone will like pudding. And some will only choose to remember when it wasn’t so sweet.

Opinion polls don’t count for much, do they? The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Luke 7:35,MSG

You. You decide for yourself. Do those you knew then, but have chosen a different path now, do their actions reflect truth? Do they do what they say they will do? Do they keep promises? Are they known by their fruit…the ones God produces-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

Are you still holding on to a person who has been transformed and no longer lives that way? Are you still holding onto bitterness and anger from some family history that has nothing to do with the person in front of you?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV

That person has been made new, too. They just happen to live in a hometown that remembers their past. Hasn’t seen their transformation.

Next time someone comes at you with a smear campaign. Examine the pudding. Taste it for yourself. If it’s good, ignore that voice that keeps telling you otherwise, and simply believe in what you know and what you see.

And if the pudding is as bad as you were told. If patterns have evolved, never changed, still exist; and well the fruit that is still produced is a bit spoiled…then you can listen to that person who hasn’t let go. However, you don’t need to hold onto the hurt. Pray. Pray God changes the pattern. Pray God starts producing a different “pudding.”

Examine the pudding. Choose your own path to determining if the fruit is good. And don’t let those wrongs jade your opinion of a person changed by God.

Don’t allow a prophet, a new creation to be rejected in his own hometown.