Spa Day (or, Sin City Jesus)

Journal Entry: January 20, 2017

I’ve always wanted to have a relationship with Jesus, but growing up as a “Christian” kid in a “Christian” school whose “Christian” Quiet Times™ (yes, that’s sarcasm) were forced upon me left me feeling jaded.

Years later, I continued my education at a Christian college. I suppose it was my choice. Rather than igniting a passion for God and His word, though, I found myself studying the Bible for the sake of course grades and a ministry degree, which only proved to perpetuate my lifelong experience “in relationship” to Jesus as… more school work.

Throughout the course of my life, I have spent innumerable hours — days, even — digging into the Bible for a sermon, blog or book, but truth be told: I’ve always lacked the passion and desire to spend time with God just for me.

On June 13, 2016, I was packing my bags for the eXXXotica Expo — a adult entertainment convention that our ministry, XXXchurch, sponsors each year — and a box fell on my head from the top storage area in my garage.

I knew I had a concussion, but I didn’t stop what I was doing. I grew sluggish as the day progressed, my head pounding inside of my skull. The pain didn’t go away — not that day, or the next, or the next. I wore sunglasses around the house for a week in an attempt to keep the migraines at bay.

Things never got better.

Eventually, I got a MRI. I went to a doctor, and in November — five months later — found a concussion expert in the Valley.

The specialist led me through a series of “impact tests,” and I failed one of them. He advised that, for two full weeks, I was to do the most difficult thing he could have asked of me:

nothing.

I left his office knowing that it would be next to impossible.

Before that fateful day, I know that I felt the Lord’s pursuit in this area of my life, by which I mean: my time, my attention and my focus.

I run fast. I oversee a ministry, work on the side, and manage my son Nolan’s career. Beyond occupation, I am involved in Nolan’s soccer teams. I help my daughter Elise with dance, and am engaged in many other activities, interests and pursuits with my wife, Jeanette.

I’m thankful for the life I’ve been allowed to lead, and while I’m able to recognize Who it comes from, I kept putting off the time to stop and reconnect with the Lord.

I know that you only make time for the things that are important to you.

I know that I’ve given a hard time to plenty of men who don’t date their wives, or spend time with their kids.

You make the time for the things that matter, and I wasn’t making any for Jesus. What else is there to say than to admit that my desire for the Lord was based more out of guilt than want or passion?

This past year, I made it a goal to work out. To set aside time for it: one hour a day, three-to-five days per week. I have never committed to something like it before, and no one forced me to do it. I do it because I want to, and the more I do it — the more I see the resultant changes in my body and my health — the more excited I get about it. If I’m honest, I don’t really enjoy working out, but I see how working at it is working for me, so I continue.

Did God give me a concussion? No.

Did God use my concussion to get my attention? To slow me down? To refocus my priorities?

Does he redeem the painful parts of our lives?

I believe so.

After my meeting with the concussion specialist, I told my wife, our long-time ministry partner Michelle and a few other friends about the doctor’s recommended off time, to which they responded, “When are you going to do it?”

“Later,” I said, “maybe over Christmas.”

When December arrived, a new friend invited me to a private screening of The Shack — a film adaptation of William Paul Young’s New York Times bestselling novel, which allegorized God’s trinitarian nature in profound ways. I said yes. I hadn’t read the book, but — whether for its critical acclaim or condemnation — was familiar with the story, and I was stoked. In my opinion, the movie was incredible: an awesome [motion] picture of the trinity personified. I left the film that day, wondering, “Maybe God is sending me a note to meet him at The Shack…?”

Spoiler Alert: If you aren’t familiar with or haven’t read the book, the story’s main character loses his daughter. Later, in the midst of a life that has come to be defined by grief and anger, he discovers a note in his mailbox, left there by God, inviting him to this place called The Shack. He accepts, and throughout the course of the story, his eyes are opened to realities that he never saw or understood before. For lack of a better descriptor, the man goes on a “healing journey” to deal with his pain. His issues with forgiveness. His self-blame and blame-of-God for the loss of his daughter. The movie does an excellent job of showcasing his journey. Eventually, through these encounters with God, what the man first discovered as a weathered, beat down and dilapidated ruin is then revealed as a glorious retreat.

A place of rest.

A garden.

It was a beautiful story, but I didn’t connect the dots. I can string a line between them now, but at the time — in the busyness that doesn’t allow for reflection — life was moving too fast to catch the pattern.

It’s funny — the way that God seems to function. I think He does it all the time: hints at healing we’re too busy to accept. We move too fast. We move from one thing to the other, mindlessly, and we miss what God is attempting to show us because we don’t — can’t, maybe — stop and let it sink in.

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My family spent a week in Oregon for Christmas that year.

I went into it thinking that — fingers crossed — it might be a slow week. Maybe I’d have time there. As it turns out, between year-end reports and a book project that wasn’t edited correctly, one thing led to another… led to another… led to another… and our time away was anything but a peaceful break from work or stress.

I was without relief as we entered into the new year, but surprisingly, about halfway through January 2017, my symptoms disappeared. I felt better. I went back to the gym. Back to my normal routines. I told everyone (including myself) that I didn’t need a two-week break from work or life.

As it stands, my symptoms still haven’t returned. I’m thankful for it, but my emotions are mixed, as well. I feel relief and sadness, simultaneously. I am grateful for the Lord’s healing, but it is combined with the sting of regret for not having heeded His invitation to spend time together had I actually pried myself away from the work that consumed my life. If I’d have taken the recommended break, perhaps I could have heard his voice more clearly.

The thing about the Lord, though, is that He’s relentless. He never stopped — and never will stop — pursuing me.

And he’ll never stop pursuing you.

I headed to Las Vegas’ AVN Adult Expo on Tuesday, January 17. We had an amazing team helping us with the ministry that year, and it helped offload some of the burden that normally falls on me throughout the convention. I didn’t have to be at the booth all day, for one, and it allowed me the freedom to cut away for work, meetings or whatever I needed (or, frankly, wanted) to do…

So, I did just that. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoon, I snuck out for a bit and spent $35 bucks on a day pass to the spa at the Cosmopolitan Hotel. I needed to get away. I needed some time alone. I didn’t feel bad about it, and I didn’t tell anyone where I was going.

I also didn’t go there expecting to get what I got out of it.

I like nice hotels. Maybe you love the outdoors, and the thought of a spa day bores you. My friends joke and laugh about how, if I had my way, I’d never step outside to see the town — just enjoy the facilities. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that… but they’re onto something.

That day was quiet and still, and I was finally alone. I turned my cell phone off, and my music on. I’m a huge Justin Vernon fan, and playlisted a mix of Bon Iver and some of my favorite worship songs, and let it run all afternoon.

I sat in a jacuzzi.

I sat in a steam room.

I lied down on a lounger.

I talked to no one.

The spa’s quiet transformed what had historically been one of the loudest, busiest weeks of my year into a retreat, and I found the opposite: stillness and rest.

My eyes were opened.

Out of nowhere and everywhere, God began to speak to me. Bible verses that I memorized to boost my grades in high school suddenly returned to me. This time, though, they felt like life — different and complete, offering respite.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.”

Mark’s gospel accounts for this truth: even Jesus would slip away.

Jesus would pull back — go somewhere for Himself — to meet with His Father.

That Wednesday afternoon — the first of three that I would spend pursuing the Lord, and my own mental, emotional and spiritual well-being — I looked out at the view from the Cosmopolitan and thought, Why wouldn’t I come here every day?

I thought, Each day, I need to find my retreat. Each day, I need to find a place, and give myself the freedom to slip away to it.

I told the Lord, “I’ll see you back here tomorrow.”

To press pause in the middle of the day… in the middle of the week… in the middle of the Vegas Strip… It was an incredible afternoon, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before it. All I wanted was to get back to that place.

And I did go back. Same spot. Same playlist. And a similar experience regarding the clarity the Lord — giver that He is — had been longing to provide.

I say “similar” as opposed to “same” regarding my time with the Lord that Thursday, because one thing did change:

I left my phone on vibrate.

I worried that if someone needed me, I would have to be available. While that’s all well and good, I also learned a valuable lesson:

I shouldn’t do to the Lord what I wouldn’t do to another person had I been meeting Him in the flesh — over dinner, perhaps, or across the table from me in a meeting.

Perhaps you are that person who can never shut down your phone… even when you are with someone else, face to face. There are plenty of them out there. (And yes, I did just make an “us vs. them” distinction.) I try to be present when I am with someone. I try to put my phone somewhere I won’t look at it — where I won’t be distracted if we’re engaged in a conversation.

When I meet with the Lord, why shouldn’t I implement those same rules just because I can’t see Him?

I found myself distracted, somehow trying to intermingle urgent texts and emails and task lists into my time with the Lord.

Disclaimer: it doesn’t work.

The next day — Friday — I went back and kept my phone on airplane mode. By that time, I sensed the dots connecting, and I wanted to draw lines between them. I wanted to write down what I’d begun to learn: thoughts, ideas for the future, things I needed to change, practices I needed to implement.

Friday’s time was much more about chronicling what I’d been told.

Writing helps solidify the thoughts that float around inside. Writing grounds the lesson.

So, I started writing, and much of what I wrote that day became what you just read. I saw these lessons begin to make sense, and I decided to make some changes in my life…

If I can find time to work out (something I still don’t like, but I love what it is doing to my body) each week, why can’t I find time to slip away? To retreat and meet with the Lord? To sit in the silence? Even Jesus did this — and not because He was forced to. He wanted to spend time with His Father.

I learned that if nothing changes… nothing changes.

God doesn’t want to meet with you out of obligation.

God doesn’t force your hand.

What would my life be like if I lived it with a greater sense of awareness and intentionality?

What if I did something that I love every day?

What if I did something that the Lord loves every day?

He loves time with you and me.

Practically, then, the question becomes: how to create it?

I like lists. Need them, actually. Whether it’s a meeting outline or an agenda for the day, I need a sense of order. For example: a friend of mine who works with me remotely comes to town once a month. We use a project-management tool called Basecamp to create running lists of the topics and conversations we want to tackle during our time together. If we run out of time, we roll the leftovers into the next meeting, in addition to adding new ideas, tasks and discoveries to our list of changes, pursuits and implementations along the way.

Knowing myself and the ways I work best, I began to honestly apply the same type of pragmatism to my time with the Lord. What’s on our list? What do we need to tackle? Where are we going to meet?

I didn’t have all of the answers perfectly squared away, and I didn’t perfectly keep to the agendas I created, but I did start to write them down…

  • “Find a place without distractions.”
  • “Find a place I want to be.”
  • “Bring a pen and paper (or phone… if you can handle not looking at anything else while you’re on it).”
  • “Schedule it like you would any other time, gym session or meeting.”
  • “Block it out on iCAL.”
  • “Stay focused. (For me, that means bringing music and sticking to the agenda.)”

I also wrote out a topic for each day of the week — something or someone to hone in on — whether that was a specific person’s name (Jeanette, Nolan, Elise, or another member of my family), my friends, myself or a particular area of my life about which I was searching for wisdom.

I tried to align myself and my new appreciation for this quiet time (now attractive, unforced and wholly mine) with the Lord’s invitation in Psalms 55:22, which reads:

“Give your burdens to the LORD, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.”

Bring what you’ve got to the Lord and ask Him for direction, guidance and “next steps.” Don’t try making sense of it — He is the one writing this story behind the scenes. Maybe he’ll give you the gift of clarity — of answers — or maybe he’ll sit with you and allow his presence to be your comfort.

Find your retreat.

Find your rest.

When I started writing this, I was unsure about what it might become (assuming it needed to become somethinganything). Is it a blog? A podcast? A chapter in a book? All of the above?

What I now know with certainty is this:

It was a start. It is the start.

It was a renewal and a stirring, and it continues to be those things to me when I retreat to silence and listen for the voice of my Lord, Who has called me “friend.”

I can’t force you to do what I am doing. I can’t force you to spend time with the Lord. Frankly, neither will He, but that doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t jealous for your attention.

Jealous for your time.

Jealous for YOU.

Because you are who He wants.

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For what it’s worth, Craig Brain wouldn’t exist without what I believe was the Lord’s intervention at the spa that day. Without having met me in Sin City, smack-dab in the middle of one of the world’s largest porn conventions. In fact, my entire life changed after our meeting at the Cosmopolitan…

This journal entry was the start of it all. It reminds me — in my own, small way — of Jesus’ promise to make all things new. He has certainly been remaking much of my life since then and, invariably, my family’s. Speaking of: we even uprooted our lives and moved away from what was comfortable for the sake of discovering what else is in store (and yes, I attend a spa regularly — a luxury, I know, for which I’m thankful — in order to get myself in a frame of mind that will allow for the silence I need to hear the Lord’s voice). The time spent with Him in those quiet places has proven to seep out and into every decision we’ve made, whether that be personally, occupationally, socially… fill in the blank.

What follows in this series of “Craig Brain” podcasts, blogs and — eventually — a book is exactly that: a peek into the fruit of prayer growing in my life. To be frank, I can’t believe I’m actually going to share much of what you’ll hear throughout the course of this year (or read, whenever that happens). I’ve not been, historically, a particularly vulnerable person, at least in the public eye. It has taken me a lifetime to understand myself, and I know the process is nowhere near complete. You will not find perfection in these pages, and many of them scare me to share, but I take comfort in knowing that He who has authored my story will someday perfect it, and bring it to completion…

Welcome to Craig Brain.

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