Singer-songwriter Mags transformed her struggle with depression into her song “Lead Me to the River,” which made her a finalist in the international John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Photo courtesy of Maggie Wang

Singer turns escape from dark days into song

  • September 26, 2013

Maggie Wang apologized to God as she stood at the side of the freeway. She awaited the transport trucks known to frequent the route near her home. That night, there was only one. And as she was about to jump, she heard a voice say, “There’s more than this.”

Wang hesitated, and the truck went on.

“I was still standing there; I was still alive,” said Wang, who has used her struggles and her discovery of God’s grace as inspiration for her music.

The now 18-year-old singer-songwriter, known as Mags, is a finalist in the international John Lennon Songwriting Contest for her song “Lead Me to the River” in the Gospel/Inspirational Category. The song is a glimpse into her struggle with depression and how her faith helped pull her back from the edge.

“As a Catholic, I know taking my life is a mortal sin. I was just tired. I was a tired soul and I wanted to go home,” she said.

Wang had experienced anxiety for years, but channelled it into excelling at school and sports. No one realized she was suffering from depression, which she experienced as far back as Grade 9. In her song, she describes the feeling of having rocks in her legs.

But her illness went unnoticed, she said, either because it was dismissed as her being emotional or because she would hide it behind a façade.

But it all started falling apart in Grade 11, especially with the additional stress of finding out her grandmother, who she describes as her everything, had cancer.

“Everything snapped,” Wang said. She stopped being able to eat properly, focus or attend class. She began failing in school and went from top goalie on her hockey and ringette teams to letting down her

“It was very humiliating and unreal and surreal for me.”

But that night on the freeway, she sat in shock that she didn’t end her life.

“That was the first moment where He really showed me, ‘I am here. I’ve been here all along with you and we’re going to get through this.’ And so throughout all my struggles the Church became my everything. I remember even as a kid I’d just saunter over to the rectory a few blocks away to seek refuge in the Church,” said Wang. “The Church had always been my beloved home. (It) never saw me as a reject, never saw me as a loser, never saw me as the worthless creature I viewed as myself.”

In “Lead Me to the River,” Wang sings about her struggles, seeking refuge in Christ, her blindness and hot-tempered personality.

The lyrics in the chorus are special to her: “Lead me to the river, I believe.”

“In that moment in that song, it’s speaking about the moment in time when I said, ‘God even if I don’t see that you’re here, I’m a blind man. I believe that you’re going to be faithful to your promises that there is more than my depression, there is more than my anxiety, there’s more than my struggles because there’s you,’ ” she said. “Jesus I place my trust in you.

You are the only one I can come to. I trust in you. Lead me to the river,” is a segment of the song that really sticks out, she said, as a reflection of when she could only turn to God. When she arrived at the point where her darkest struggles with depression were in the past, she felt God was calling her to share her experience with other young people, especially young Catholics, and to “witness to the power of the Church.”

Music was “not only a way for me to connect to God, but a way to connect to other people and really be able to move on,” she said. “And to always remind me of those times so I never forget when God reached out His hand to save my life.”

Wang takes pride that her song about faith was nominated in an international secular competition.

“It was very cool to give witness and for the Lord to use my sufferings for some good.”

Wang is the daughter of David Wang of the award-winning Christian band Critical Mass. She is a first-year student at the University of Waterloo and was nominated for a Canadian Gospel Music Association Covenant Award in 2011 for her jazz album Dreaming of Christmas. This year, she released her debut pop CD Mismatched available at Christian retailers. Her single “Knock” peaked at no. 7 on the Canadian Christian charts.

 Judges on this year’s John Lennon Songwriting Contest, which was established in 1997 by Yoko Ono, included Sean Paul, Fergie and Natasha Bedingfield.

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