Change Can Be Hard – And That’s OK

By Reed Wagner, Kearney, NE 

When I moved to Kearney in 2020, I knew I would have to make new friends and find my people. I got a job working at a middle school, which is an interesting place to work. When I was invited to First Lutheran Church, I started working with the choir and then playing piano for services. While finding ways to get more and more connected at First, I met Pastor Elisabeth Himmelman – the best or worst thing to happen to me.

Pastor E. works at Campus Lutheran at UNK, she invited me to Dinner Church to meet people my age. Then she asked if I would help out with Vacation Bible School (VBS) at First Lutheran. Working with everyone during VBS was amazing, and reading stories to the kids was so much fun. I didn’t know yet, but a change was upon me. During our Wednesday VBS session, Pastor E. invited me to go on the mission trip with First Lutheran Youth. On Thursday I said yes, and on Friday I packed and left with a bus full of high schoolers to another state on Saturday. During that trip, I got to be a part of the church. I was invited into a community, given the chance to lead, and had my first real taste of what the church is.

Through the following months, I found myself trying not to miss youth group or dinner church every week. I’m still quite young and I’ve been learning what real change is like. It’s not easy or fast, but it will be alright and change is easier when you have a community. They give you the strength to face it, and support to get through it. Someone I would talk to a lot kept saying “and that’s OK” every time things got difficult. Something about that dumb little phrase kept digging in again and again. Someone looked past all the lies I told myself, and accepted me for me, as I am now. That’s when I knew that my community saw me, and accepted me. These are easy words to say, but crazy to feel.

In September 2022, I drove a little out of town to someone’s backyard, followed by a bus of First Lutheran Youth, Campus Lutheran members, family and friends. Where Pastor E. tried to drop me in freezing cold water. I was baptized, surrounded by the people that I chose, and that chose me. With my community, I was marked with the name “Beloved.” I was accepted into the church, for the forgiveness of my sins.

When I moved to Kearney I was a college dropout, living with my family, and working any job that would hire me. Step by step I was changed and supported by my community. Every now and then I stand still a little too long, but I have God to shove me in the right direction. Whether that’s God trying to give me hypothermia in somebody’s backyard, to forcing me to become a leader while dealing with Kansas City rush hour traffic while there’s an accident on the highway, with a van full of high schoolers. Or just learning to listen to those around me, and supporting them back. After all that, I still have one transition that needs to happen. Through the support of First Lutheran, Campus Lutheran, family and friends, I decided to go back to college.

It’s going to be hard, and I can’t see what the future looks like. And that’s OK. God has always been forcing me to change, and I know it can be done. Now I have the strength to do it. Strength in my community, a messy community, but my community. And I have a goal now, to let someone else feel the love I felt when I knew my community accepted me.