Millions know Emily Maynard Johnson from her unprecedented double appearances on The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. Millions also know that neither of the relationships from those shows lasted much longer than a commercial break.
Overcome with embarrassment following her nationally televised failures at romance, Emily finally committed her heart to the only one she knew would never leave her empty and alone. Abandoning her desire to be chosen by men and finding peace in the fact that she was already chosen by God, Emily found the joy she had been looking for in serving God.
In I Said Yes, Emily tells the story of her life before and after reality TV fame, describing the profound new reality she discovered when she forsook fame in favor of the Lord. At the end of a long, fruitless search for a man, this courageous young woman found the truest love of all waiting right in front of her. To that love, Emily said yes.
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|Publisher:||Nelson, Thomas, Inc.|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)|
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I Said Yes
My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption, and True Love
By Emily Maynard Johnson, A.J. Gregory
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2016 Emily Maynard
All rights reserved.
Church lady," my brother, Ernie, three years my senior, spewed with disgust. I pretended I didn't hear. It was a name he had called me for years. And oddly, it had nothing to do with the fact that I went to church. Because I didn't, except on that rare occasion when it didn't seem like such an enormous chore for my parents to get everyone together and out the door on time for Catholic Mass. I was dubbed the church lady because I was more or less a Goody Two-Shoes. (Maybe just one reason I had a tendency to fall for the bad boys, some of whom shall remain nameless in my vault of shame.) As a little girl, it made sense to follow the rules. I was pretty stringent. And I wasn't shy about voicing my disapproval when the ones I loved most committed certain infractions. Like smoking.
I remember when I was around ten, bouncing up the creaky wooden staircase in our home, when I heard a familiar click-click-click from the stove. My father was lighting a cigarette the old-fashioned way. I made a beeline down the stairs and tore into the kitchen screaming bloody murder. "Dad, don't do that!" I pleaded, tears streaming down my face. "You're going to die."
A chill from the tiled kitchen floor shivered through my body as a scene from health class a few weeks earlier replayed in my mind. The teacher had droned on and on ad nauseam about the harmful effects of smoking. I sat at my desk, barely hearing a word she was saying, riveted by a glossy photograph that was being passed around the room. There, right before my eyes, was a high-quality image of a blackened, diseased lung. I stared in horror at the charred-looking organ. So when Dad whipped out a deadly cancer stick from his back pocket, all I could think about was what was happening to his insides. Unfortunately, he didn't appreciate my good-willed theatrics. A man who stuffed his emotions, Dad simply rolled his eyes, realizing he could avoid the drama by not smoking in front of me.
Sometimes, if he was annoyed enough at my church-lady antics, he gave me more than an eye roll. Like the time we were in Key West, where we spent a few weeks most summers, and Dad reached for his crinkly pack of smokes. On cue I started ranting and raving with high-pitched cries. My father shook his head and reached for something else in his other back pocket.
"Here," he sighed, pressing a credit card into the palm of my hand. "Go on now, sweetie, go shopping."
Staying true to my obedient little self, I wiped dry my tears and nodded in compliance. "Okay, Dad. I will." It was his most expensive cigarette.
Planting roots near Cheat Lake in Morgantown, West Virginia, home to the state's largest university, my father was an old-fashioned man who held firm to some pretty antiquated values I didn't agree with but, like a good Southern girl, rarely questioned. Dad was a hard worker; he still is. Growing up with empty pockets, he toiled in the coal mines as a teenager, spending ten grueling hours per day far below the earth's surface in the presence of thick dust, heavy equipment, and noxious fumes. He worked his way up over the years and bought a handful of coal mines; today he owns two as he is beginning to retire. I loved Dad but didn't see him much as business took up most of his time.
If I was the church lady, Mom was the Southern Martha Stewart, which means, unlike the famed M. Diddy (Martha's prison name), my mother wore a lot of noisy bangles and had a slight and very charming twang in her voice. Mom poured her heart and soul into our house — cooking, cleaning, and decorating with passion. With her hair elegantly pinned up in a French twist, her feet dolled up in high heels, and the light scent of Calvin Klein's Obsession emanating from her pulse points, Mom always looked as glamorous as a 1950s Hollywood starlet. She was known for her parties. Particularly the bash she threw each Christmas Eve, where she served every delectable cocktail and hors d'oeuvre known to mankind with her signature smile. Mom was a gracious and thoughtful host. Almost everyone in town showed up to her trademark parties, teeming our old Victorian house with throngs of people drinking, laughing, and gallivanting.
My brother, Ernie, was at times protective and other times an utter goofball, knowing how to make me laugh so hard I was afraid my stomach would split.
As a relatively quiet kid and lacking even a smidgen of athletic ability, I didn't take to sports or other team activities. But I did enjoy riding horses. When I was around eight years old, I met Q-tip, a small white horse, at summer camp. I fell head over heels. My love affair with riding compelled my parents to get me lessons. As it turned out, I was pretty good.
A few years later, Dad bought me Reno, a quarter horse elegantly marked on its face with a white star. Reno was housed at a stable an hour away. He and I rendezvoused a couple of times a week, and like a happy couple we trotted through wooded trails and learned to jump with elegance over poles and cavalletti. There was just something so comforting being alone on such a gallant animal, wind blowing through our manes as the horse galloped with a beautiful combination of strength and grace. My weekends were spent out of town at horse shows with my mom and horse trainer. Some of my best childhood memories are of riding, hurtling through space and time on the back of a beautiful and powerful four-legged mass of muscle.
When I was in the sixth grade, my parents bought a farm in Bruceton Mills, which was about thirty minutes from home. The farm was smack in the middle of nowhere, in a town with a population of, like, five. Boasting panoramic mountain views, billowing cornfields, and acres and acres of fields grazed by cows and blanketed with wooded land, it was our country haven. Mom was also riding horses at the time, so Dad bought two more. As beautiful as they were, these animals were untrained. If you ever want to test your patience or will, try riding an unbroken horse. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
One weekend when I was about twelve, Mom went riding on the farm. I was near the house but could see her mount one of the horses and gallop toward the cornfields. As I diverted my attention back to whatever it was I was doing, a cry pierced the air. I couldn't tell if it was human or animal. Startled, I looked up over the field and at the same time saw the baseball hat my mother was wearing shoot high into the air. My heart started racing, and I hopped on the nearest quad, wheels spinning furiously deep in the earth. By the time I got there, Mom was writhing and whimpering in pain on the dirt. My gym teacher, who had been nearby when the accident happened, hovered over her. My dad was also there and immediately barked for me to go back to the house. There was no sign of the horse. My mom was hospitalized for a few days, and though she eventually recovered from her injuries, I was traumatized for life. I never got on a horse again.
Without riding, life quickly got lonely. I was painfully shy and wasn't talented in the making-friends department. But I did hang out with a small group of girls I had known since kindergarten. We would spend time together giggling and making up silly games at the many sleepovers I hosted at my house. We swam, canoed, and explored beautiful Cheat Lake, which bordered the back of our property. And we listened to and daydreamed of one day marrying famous boy-band musicians, my future husband being Justin Timberlake of *NSYNC. If it weren't for my mother's threats to kill me, I'd have gotten a full-sleeve tattoo of JT just so I could look at him all day long. Sigh.
The dynamic changed when I came back from spending a summer in Key West. I left the Sunshine State tanned and happy with fond memories of surf and sand. Missing my friends, I expected somewhat of a warm welcome in return. I was sorely disappointed. They turned on me. They called me names. They told lies. They started doing things and going places, making sure I knew I wasn't invited. Hurt and confused by the ice-cold reception, I withdrew inward. As hard as I tried, I couldn't figure out a reason for the drastic mutation from friends to foes. It felt pretty sucky to be blacklisted without a cause.
I know now this is typical preteen/teen behavior for girls, but hailing from a small town and being such a sensitive child, it rocked my world. I hated going to school, having to face their ridicule and taunts. I kept my emotions at bay as much as possible until the final bell rang. Then I'd run home, leaping over sidewalk cracks and stomping crunchy autumn leaves, and lie curled up on my window seat until the sun faded. The tension was so bad, my parents eventually pulled me out of school and enrolled me in a Catholic one nearby. I wasn't there long. After a short while, I found myself back at Cheat Lake Middle School. I kept as low a profile as I could, avoiding the mean girls. The further I slipped under the radar, the better off I'd be.
It was around this time my faith was sparked. While church was an occasional event, I always felt connected to God. In my heart, I knew He was real. And at times, I could even feel a divine tug, a pull toward Something, Someone greater than me. But these were feelings I couldn't articulate or put into words. I grew up believing and in some ways learning through others that God was akin to Santa Claus or a genie in a bottle. When life called for it, I prayed conditional or gimme prayers. I'm sure you know the kind. "God, if You help me pass this test / make Dad buy me that dress / tell the teacher not to call on me, I'll never be fresh to Mommy / I'll do my homework as soon as I get home from school / I'll never again forget to feed the dog" and so forth.
A weekend youth retreat deepened my ideas of spirituality. Given my lone-wolf syndrome, I'm not sure how I even ended up bouncing on a springy seat in a church van heading to a youth event with neighboring churches. But there I was. And the only thing I remember was being planted on a gymnasium floor surrounded by hundreds of bold-colored sleeping bags and their rowdy teenage owners, loud as a cavalry to the charge. I'm sure there was music, worship of some kind, a few activity-building exercises, and a spiritual message by a youth pastor or someone. I don't know what it was that stirred my heart, but something did.
We kids slept on the shiny wooden floor that night. When the lights turned out and all was quiet except for a few secretive whispers and occasional shushing by annoyed adult chaperones, I nestled in my sleeping bag, stomach side down. While cradling my head in the crook of my arms, tears fell. Silent, but many. I was keenly aware of God's presence in that moment. I didn't know Him yet, but I knew that I loved Him. The feeling was so intense, it felt as though my heart were going to explode. But for fear of being made fun of or being labeled a weirdo, I kept my head down until the tears stopped falling. I didn't share the experience with anyone. I simply enjoyed what I knew was a divine fingerprint on my life. I can't even begin to tell you how soundly I slept that night.
* * *
The summer before I entered the ninth grade, I started thinking about boarding school. My former friends still weren't being very kind, and I was desperate to start fresh, to be surrounded by kids who didn't know anything about me. At the time my brother was enrolled in an all-boys school in Pennsylvania, gracing us with his presence almost every weekend. He seemed to be doing fine, so my parents started making arrangements for me to enroll in Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania my freshman year.
I stared out the window during much of the two-and-a-half-hour drive. Music blared and Justin belted out the lyrics to "It's Gonna Be Me" on my CD player headset. Questions surfaced as my parents and I sailed down Route 68. What would it be like being away from home? Would I miss my parents? Would I make friends? Would anyone like me? Would I meet a boy? What if the work was too hard? Despite my fears, I felt better knowing most of the other freshmen students would share similar fears.
As we passed over the Pennsylvania border, my stomach tightened and I closed my eyes, trying to push down the ripples of anxiety that coursed through me. It was easy once we turned into the academy entrance a few winding roads later. The school was separated from the rest of the world by an ornate iron gate and surrounded by majestic trees. My mouth dropped; the backdrop was breathtaking. Mercersburg Academy was three hundred acres of sprawling grandeur. Nestled in the Tuscarora Mountain ridge, the campus swelled with manicured lawns dotted with oak and maple trees and Gothic-inspired buildings that reminded me of pictures I'd seen of European architecture. Students sporting button-down shirts, khaki pants, and bright white smiles meandered around the verdant campus, walking with enviable confidence. On the outside, the academy looked more like a country club than a school. All I could think was, Whoooa! I was now entering what I would quickly discover was the "Mercersburg bubble." Once inside, school becomes your world.
Orientation was a blur, as was moving what seemed like a million overstuffed boxes and bags and suitcases from my parents' car and stuffing my belongings somewhat sensibly in a cramped but new dorm room that smelled of fresh paint. After the final round of hugs, well wishes, and last-minute advice to stay away from pot, booze, and boys, my parents left. I finally had a moment by myself. I lay on my twin bed, mind spinning from information overload of classes, courses, schedules, policies, directions, and rules. I didn't know what I was in for, but based on the material I was armed with, boarding school seemed like it would be a pretty intense experience.
Boarding school was tough. I couldn't keep up academically. It was difficult to be attentive for an hour straight while professors carried on and on about things that quite frankly didn't interest me. I had trouble memorizing every fact, figure, and date from the ancient Mediterranean world. Staying focused was difficult. I was quick to zone out if something didn't immediately capture my attention. (I would be diagnosed with ADD two years later.) As hard as I tried to give my academics my all when the first semester began, I quickly lost steam. Soon enough, I was barely finishing the assigned reading and investing little work and energy into the big projects that accounted for half my grade. And without a parent, teacher, or adult to hound me into doing my homework and studying for exams, I couldn't find the motivation. So I did only the bare minimum in order simply to pass the year.
I stayed at Mercersburg for a year and then transferred to Saint Andrew's School in Boca Raton, Florida. The year before, my parents had bought a house in Sunset Key, a tiny part-residential part-resort island about five hundred yards and a short ten-minute ferry ride from Key West. They made the official move from Virginia to Florida when I started school.
While the academics at Mercersburg challenged me, the lifestyle at Saint Andrew's tripped me up. Five miles from the beach and situated in the Beverly Hills of Florida, this community, according to Forbes, was ranked seventh on a list of where most millionaires live. In other words, super–fancy schmancy. Though less spacious than Mercersburg at only eighty-one acres, the campus at Saint Andrew's was just as beautiful but in its own tropical way. It was an idyllic paradise. Stark-white buildings stood in contrast to swaying palm trees and beautiful tropical flowers. I am not by any means trying to take away from the beauty of the campus, but having been to Key West a million times over the years, I was well familiar with the eye-catching aesthetics of a seaside utopia. What I wasn't familiar with, however, was the blatant display of wealth.
Excerpted from I Said Yes by Emily Maynard Johnson, A.J. Gregory. Copyright © 2016 Emily Maynard. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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