The other day I was out for a walk with my daughter and spotted a lonely roll of duct tape sitting on the side of the road. I stopped abruptly and exclaimed ‘I need to go get that!’, to which she replied, ‘Because of Tracy?’ ‘Yes!’ I shouted as I ran across the road to pick up the dirty, mostly-used roll of tape.
When I think about Tracy, who died in September 2016, I think about duct tape… and two values that directed her life: authenticity in who she was in God and her perseverance to follow God’s direction and live life in faith.
I met Tracy at our church at 12 years old. She had just gone through her first exploratory surgery to figure out why her left hand was becoming weak and useless. They later diagnosed her with an unusual disease called neurofibromatosis. Non-cancerous tumours were growing in her brain, spinal cord, and major nerves. It caused set-backs and timeouts as she was forced into surgeries throughout her life. But to Tracy, these were not roadblocks, but merely speed bumps.
Tracy and I became best friends. We joined the high school ski team, and took ski instructor training at our local ski hill. Bombing up there in her parent’s mini-van, we keep track of how many days we spent on the hill and had a weird ritual of not washing our ski socks for an entire season!
Tracy was a talented skier, but that left hand was not very functional. Skiing with only one pole was not an option to her, so Tracy carried a roll of duct tape with her. Every ski session she taped her pole to her mittened hand. Without intending to, Tracy made duct tape a ski bum must-have, and soon duct-taped ski mitts were fashionable for us instructors, whose mitts were getting worn out from too much time on the rope tow.
Tracy did not try to hide the fact that her hand was inhibited. This routine was an example of her authentic approach to life. In addition to her mitt, she ripped off a piece of that duct tape and applied it to her right ski boot. With thick black Sharpie marker, she wrote the reference to a Bible verse (John 3:16), sharing her faith with the other teenage skiers and the world.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (NIV)
Tracy was who she was. Authentic and living with perseverance. When other kids asked about the reference on her ski boot, she simply explained how she believed in God.
Despite her diagnosis, Tracy went on to live a full life serving God, full of all kinds of twists and turns, highs and lows. She completed a Masters of Divinity Acadia University. As her disease was on the attack for her sense of hearing, Tracy got on a plane and moved to St. Andrew’s, Scotland to complete her PhD. She was excited to live in a new country (and maybe to meet that cute Prince William), regardless of the challenge of deciphering thick accents with limited hearing. No matter, she forged ahead. She later joined the United Nations as a spiritual counsellor spending time in New York and later on risky missions to Afghanistan. I am sure that during all that world travel, Tracy had something in her luggage repaired with duct tape!
The day after Tracy passed away, I was parked in my car on an incline. I looked up and out the window and watched as a random roll of duct tape rolled down the middle of the street and came to rest behind my car in the middle of an intersection, cars curving around it. As I scrambled out and ran to retrieve it, it struck me that God was sending a message that day after Tracy’s death. That He lives with us, and through the strength of being taped together in His love, we are called to live authentic and persevering lives, as Tracy did. To listen for and follow God’s direction and to get up and go for the next thing.
So, three years later, when another roll of duct tape appeared on the side of the road, I picked it up. I am reminded of Tracy’s life and feel God’s urging to live with authenticity and perseverance. Even when it is challenging.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. – James 1:2-4 (NIV)
I will always be grateful for what I learned from Tracy and how she lived her life – that true wellness is not about having a disease or pain-free body, or doing what others think is best. True wellness is about authentically living life with God, giving what you can, and finding rest in Him.
More about Dr. Tracy Vom Hagen: https://acadiadiv.ca/2016remembering-dr-tracy-vom-hagen/