Time Might Not Heal All Wounds, But Grace Can

The Gospel according to Laguna Beach

The article is written by Erin Verham:

One of my greatest fears has always been that others would become privy to my worst failures and flaws, and judge me accordingly. This plays itself out in nasty ways on my psyche. Even years after a conflict with a loved one, I still believe that the bad thing I did or said to them is all they can see. When I worked as a teacher, I was constantly terrified to check my email for fear of what nasty message awaited me because I’d failed a student or said the wrong thing, or just needed to do — be — better. In times of idleness or silence, my brain mixes all of these thoughts together into a cursed montage of scenes featuring my life’s biggest mistakes and regrets. I call it “Erin’s Greatest Hits.” It’s brutal, and it plays on a perpetual loop.

Somewhere along the line in my early spiritual formation, I developed the belief that at the end of days, I would stand alone at the foot of God’s throne while God played a video of my entire life for everyone throughout history to watch. I imagined sitting at the feet of the Creator of the Universe, watching a tape of my life, from my good deeds that earned jewels for my crown to my sins that built cement walls between myself and God. Ultimately, God would let me into heaven, but not until everyone got to see the raw footage of all I’d ever done.

Cut to Laguna Beach, California, and a group of chill teens whose great and terrible moments actually did air for the world to see on MTV’s Laguna Beach, a reality show that premiered in 2004 and made its way into my house by way of a cool babysitter who let my sisters and I rent the DVDs from Blockbuster. I was mesmerized by these kids who acted like such adults and did things that were so utterly foreign to me: they went surfing, got their nails done, had fake IDs, drank beer at house parties, went to prom in limos, and danced on the bar during spring break.

The show focused heavily on the love triangle between Kristin Cavallari, the spunky, outspoken flirt, and the life of the party, Stephen Colletti, a cute senior who surfed and golfed, and Lauren Conrad, the “girl next door” and Stephen’s lifelong best friend. Together, they navigate their senior year in a slew of fashion shows, bonfires, hotel parties, and dinner dates, all culminating in a graduation ceremony with a montage of everyone wearing leis and walking arm in arm to “Graduation (Friends Forever)” by Vitamin C.

One of the most notable moments from the first season happened during spring break in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when an explosive, tequila-fueled fight erupted between Kristin and Stephen at a tiki bar. They were “on a break” from their on-again-off-again relationship, and Kristin was flirting with a cute guy named Sam and dancing on the bar with a friend. Stephen went into a jealous rage and went off on Kristin, shouting and calling her a choice word that I won’t mention here, before storming out of the bar. The two ultimately ended up rekindling their love, only to eventually break up again when Stephen went off to college in San Francisco.

Throughout the show, MTV gives us a glimpse into these teens’ lives, as they partied, fell in love, broke up, got back together, and just lived. To a young, sheltered Erin who went to church twice a week and didn’t have cable TV, these beach kids were otherworldly icons and nothing short of completely captivating.

To this day, I’m a huge reality TV fan, so I was thrilled to hear that Kristin and Stephen started a Laguna Beach recap podcast called Back to the Beach. 18 years later, they watch the show for the first time since it came out and break it down, one episode at a time. Kristin and Stephen are living out my biggest fear: watching and reliving the best and worst moments of their lives, for all the world to witness. And I cannot believe how casually they go about it.

Though Kristin and Stephen are no longer dating, they surprisingly share a sweet camaraderie and express strong respect and support for one another — the grace shown by two exes with such a tumultuous past now being friendly and easygoing is not lost on me. They made some pretty colossal missteps on the show, but they are able to address each other’s mistakes so nonchalantly. In episode 105, “‘What Happens in Cabo’ Part 2,” Stephen takes full accountability for his infamous outburst, calling the incident one of the worst moments in his life and sincerely apologizing to Kristin for the harm it caused her. Kristin’s response: “That wasn’t you, at all. In a lot of ways, it was almost relatable, because I feel like we’ve all experienced that really deep jealous feeling before, and it sucks. Was it your best moment? No, but that wasn’t who you are.” They fully embrace and address the pain, and then they skip right along, laughing about their “cringeworthy” moments in the next scene, as if nothing ever happened.

At the end of each podcast episode, Kristin and Stephen each rate their performance in the show episode and state one thing they wish they could do over. They give their own performances F’s almost every time; the only time so far that they’ve rated themselves at a B or an A has been in an episode that didn’t heavily feature their storylines.

I wish my brain allowed me to address my moments of failure with the same levity as Kristin and Stephen seem to be able to do for themselves and one another. I wish I could watch the video of my life and be so gracious.

In his book Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment, Robert Farrar Capon talks about the final judgment day and God’s wrathful fire, but not as a means of condemning sinners. Instead, God’s fire burns away the evil in the world that plagued people and robbed them of life. In this way, God’s burning fire saves us, bringing us life, unfettered by the pain we suffered here on earth. We may not get to heaven without our sins, but they won’t matter when we get there.

Hilary Duff, an early aughts teen pop icon, echoes Capon’s sentiments in the chorus of her classic hit  “Come Clean” — the theme song for both Laguna Beach the podcast and the show:

Let the rain fall down
And wake my dreams
Let it wash away
My sanity
‘Cause I wanna feel the thunder
I wanna scream
Let the rain fall down
I’m coming clean

Robert Capon’s redemptive fire and Hilary Duff’s cleansing water meet my montage of guilt and regret with grace and restoration. The God I have come to know looks at the reel of my life with love and compassion. This God doesn’t force us to play our Laguna Beach humiliations and regrets on repeat, imagining how we could have and should have done better. I now think that God sees us as we are, coming to us as cleansing fire and water and lifting us out of shame and into new life, where we are simply, purely, utterly loved.

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2 responses to “Time Might Not Heal All Wounds, But Grace Can”

  1. Jane says:

    Love this Erin!

  2. Cali says:

    So good!

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