A notification appeared on my screen. Two missed calls. One new voicemail. It wasn’t a number I recognized, so I picked up my phone and hit “play” out of curiosity. “Hey Paige, this is Russ…” “Oh, it’s Russ,” I thought, recognizing the voice and kind demeanor of a good family friend. “I wonder why he’s calling.” “I’m calling because I know you’ve had some trouble with back pain for awhile, and I wanted to know if I could help you at all. You know I’m a PT, and I just wanted to know if I could offer any of my services to you free of charge. If that sounds good, just give me a call back and let me know what you think. Thanks, bye.” Click. I sat there with the phone against my ear for a few moments, shocked. The tears started flowing, and not just a few. This ordinary Wednesday morning was turning out to be a day the Lord reminded me what it means to have — and experience — neighborly love.
A little (back) story
I’ve dealt with some chronic back pain for about half my life. My spine is skewed in an “S” curve, just like my aunt’s and grandma’s, as a spine condition called scoliosis runs in our family. As far as pain or diseases and overall health problems go, it’s really not too bad. I try not to complain about it, but the oddity of a skewed spine can take its toll in aches and pains. The past few years have involved trying to manage the pain while also seeing deterioration. While the activity of youth keeps your core fairly strong and flexible, the stagnant nature of adulthood leaves you a little more vulnerable. All that to say, the past few years I’ve tried to take care of my back as much as possible, but with frequent trips to the chiropractor adding up, I knew there wasn’t much I could do to help myself without creating financial strain. Hence, the gravity of this call.
Physical therapy and loving your neighbor
Russ has known my family for a long time. He joined a small group with my parents at our local church when I was about eight years old, and he’s been around ever since. Even with my knowledge that Russ worked as a physical therapist, I’ve never talked much with him about my chronic pain. It never occurred to me, which is why that phone call came as such a sweet surprise. I called Russ back to thank him, and agreed to come in and see him the next time I was available. I’ve done a few physical therapy sessions with Russ, and he’s offered me insight, support, and suggestions on how to strengthen and stabilize my back and core. And while the purpose of this piece isn’t to tell you all exercises I use my pilates band for, the practicality of Russ’s kindness is worth sharing.
What strikes me most about this interaction is not Russ’ generosity; I always knew him to be generous. And what strikes me most is not his kindness; he is already one of the kindest men I know. What drew me to this action was the way that his faith and friendship led him to care for me — not just my spiritual needs, but in my physical ones, too. Growing up, I thought “loving your neighbor” was mainly reserved for spreading the gospel or stocking soup kitchens. As far as work went — the daily ins and outs of our jobs and vocations — it never occurred to me that the skills we developed at work could be tools to love our neighbors, too. I didn’t know you could love your neighbor by sharing your expertise. I didn’t know you could seek the common good outside vocational ministries and mission trips. This, to me, was an example of what faith and work can look like in action. A person of faith empowered to go out of his way (hello, Matthew 18:12) to use his specialty to meet the needs of someone who couldn’t help themselves. This is the gospel at work, through the modern day work of physical therapy. This was a really important lesson to me not only in generosity, but the holistic reach of God’s care.
This story reminds me that God cares not just about my resurrected body in the age to come, but the aches and pains of this world now, too. God cares for it all, and uses his people — whether at work or outside of it — to help his kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Even now, our neighbors are in apparent (or obvious) need. What would it look like to go out of your way to love your neighbor with the skills and talents God’s gifted you?