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03: Own Your Fears: An Interview with Amber Wagner

Oct 15, 2015

We believe a lot of myths about people who succceed on the biggest stages.

One of those myths is the best performers no longer battle fear. However, this myth could not be further from the truth for Amber Wagner.

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In this installment of my interview series, Overcoming Fear, I caught up with Amber Wagner. Amber is an incredible opera singer! OPERA NEWS selected Amber as “one of twenty-five artists poised to break out and become a major force in classical music in the coming decade.” The Chicago Tribune called her “one remarkable voice.” This month, she has performed in Paris and Prague.

Amber and I attended college together, where I was first exposed to her vocal talents. I would be lying if I said we got along super well during those years! We were both strong-willed, opinionated and we didn’t always land on the same side of conversations. (I might have mildly immature at the time too!)

Thanks to Facebook, we’ve been able to stay in touch and I marvel at Amber’s professional success and discipline as an artist. I am so grateful to share this interview with you!

SS: Amber, thanks for sharing with my readers. You’re an internationally-successful opera singer. Some people might think you no longer battle fear. But that’s simply not true. What does fear most often look or sound like in your life?

AW: Oh man. Fear…this is a topic or rather an emotion I’ve been processing and trying my best to come to terms with…for me, it’s not something anymore I try to nonchalantly brush aside or flippantly say “I’m fearless! I don’t struggle with that!” Truth is, I’ve “wrestled” more with this emotion in the last 2.5 years of my life than I have in the entirety of my existence. Fear is the unknown. The great, dense vapid space that I cannot concretely control. It mocks me and makes a fool out of me for truly I know that there is NO depth that Jesus does no go to with me. I think it really took on a life after I became a mom and realized (and I am still coming to terms) how undeniably responsible I am for this little human. That the choices I make and the things I say and the way I treat others are leaving an indelible mark on my son. I’m not too ignorant to admit that of course these things mattered greatly BEFORE becoming a mom – but now having a child that I am raising and molding has brought a new face of fear for me. I fear the many questions my son will have and the inadequate answers I will inevitably at times give. I fear the disappointment he will feel at my humanness and my sin – I fear the failures I have already committed and the ones I know are still coming will scar him. But mostly, it’s the unknown. I *love* being in control and motherhood at times is anything BUT that. 🙂

SS: Thanks for that specific honesty. I’m curious, did you always know it was fear or did it take you some time?

AW: Sure – I knew fear on a very shallow level. I had fears about performing or fears that at any given time the plane I was on could crash….but this particular brand of fear is new for me since having a child.

SS: When I talk to people about fear, there are often specific experiences they mention. We’re interested in your story. What has fear kept you from doing in the past? Is there a particular moment that comes to mind?

AW: It has kept me from speaking my truth. There are things – literally moments in time – that I have begged Jesus to let me go back and change because I know NOW that I should have spoken up – that being fearful about what someone would think or say is never worth the cost. Fear has also crippled me in the performing arena. There are a handful of performances that I know “got away from me” because I gave into fear.

SS: So you’re an expert of sorts when it comes to fear but you’ve also got a lot of experiencing facing your fears and acting anyway. What helped you become courageous in the face of fear? Was there an inflection point of some sort that helped you become MUCH more courageous?

AW: Jesus! I know that sounds cliché, but it’s the truth. Also the people He has placed in my life in this moment and time that have had courage to speak truth to me. One of my pastors said this recently after teaching one Sunday: “nothing we are going through or are about to go through is a surprise to God.” That has left a profound mark on my heart….God is not surprised by the events we go through! He knows it all and knows the fear we may experience and the pain and anxiety we may face! He knows the joys and highs too!! I’ve experienced great pain in the last few years – physical pain – and I think it has drawn me MUCH closer to God and has helped me reconcile my fear of “what if this happens again?” I was forced to dig really deep into God’s word and literally gird my loins with scripture and truth to combat the fear….I’m not always successful at it, but I can honestly report that it has helped me immensely!

SS: Gird your loins – that’s my favorite line from The Devil Wears Prada! It sounds like the last few years of your life have included a lot of joy but some serious pain too. How do you stay hopeful? Is hope an important quality in your life/work?

AW: God’s word and my community – made up of my family and friends and church. I find that fear gets a louder voice when I don’t take it to my “people” and openly admit the struggle. Calling it out – even in prayer or journaling – has been huge for me. Hope is VITAL to my life. Hebrews 6:19 reads, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul.” I know that there is nothing that my day, week, month, year…my life span holds that God can’t handle and that is MY HOPE!! That is my anchor.

SS: Amber, thanks for that inspiration! Your responses have been very helpful. Here’s my final question. I want you to imagine someone reading this at their office computer or walking down the hallway on their iPhone. And this someone is being dominated by fear. What would you say to encourage readers who are battling fear?

AW: This may sound strange, but OWN it. Call it out and cry out to Jesus. Get together with your community and dig into those fears and command them to be gone. Fear gains power and momentum when we stay silent and try and battle it on our own…and when we are afraid to really speak it out loud, it starts to take a shape and move in! I cling to the following verse and have found great rest and release in these words from Isaiah 43:1: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” I belong to Jesus. And there is NO fear because He lives and I am His child.

Amber, thanks so much for sharing with all of us! If you want to connect with Amber, you can follow her on Facebook or read about her recent performances.

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