America learned Emily Maynard’s heartbreaking story on season 15 of the ABC reality show, The Bachelor, and season 8 of The Bachelorette. The single mother was looking for love and a fresh start six years after the tragic death of her fiancé NASCAR driver Ricky Hendrick.
But reality show love didn’t prove to be real for Maynard. After two failed TV relationships, her search for healing continued, away from the public eye.
Now married to Tyler Johnson with two kids and a third on the way, Maynard is sharing her journey through grief and guilt to restoration in God in her new memoir, I Said Yes: My Story of Heartbreak, Redemption, and True Love. Guideposts.org spoke with the busy mom about how faith helped to heal her heart and how she learned to listen to God’s voice.
GUIDEPOSTS: You lost your fiancé when you were 18 years old and found out a short time after he died that you were pregnant with his daughter, Ricki. How were you able to get through that time?
EMILY MAYNARD: Honestly, I look back on that time and I think it’s totally God’s protection because I really don’t remember a whole lot of it. Writing my book, I Said Yes, and having to sit down and sort through every little memory was really hard for me. I feel like I had blocked it out. Somebody posted on Facebook a couple days ago the different stages of grief. That was something I wasn’t really interested in reading about it when I was going through it. I just thought, “There’s no way I’ll ever come out of this. There are no stages; I’m going to be in this stage forever where it’s going to hurt this badly. I’m going to feel that physical pain of heartbreak every day.”
But now that I’ve looked at it, I realize I really did go through every point of the scale, you know? Now that I’ve come out of it [I can] try to give hope to others that are going through something similar.
GUIDEPOSTS: In your grieving, was there something someone said or did that helped you bear the burden a little better?
EM: I remember someone telling me to open up my Bible and open it to any page. At that point I wasn’t really super faithful. I believed in God but I didn’t really know what it meant to have a relationship with him. So I remember opening up my Bible and it just spoke to me. That was really the catalyst for my faith growing at that point. Another friend made me a mixed CD of a bunch of songs that were special to Ricky and me, to take my mind off of everything but remind me of good things and the future too.
Being pregnant, I was forced to really take care of myself and I had something else to focus on. I had to get up and I had doctor appointments to go to. She was the light at the end of a tunnel and I really felt like it was God just giving me a huge gift at the end of this huge tragedy.
GUIDEPOSTS: You shared in your book the regret you have for some of the choices you made in the years after Ricky’s death, like doing reality TV. How do those regrets shape how you live now?
EM: I think at the root of everything, I wanted that family for my daughter. I never saw myself being a single mom. I really wanted to meet somebody that could give me that perfect family that I dreamt of. But I think deeper than at the time I just felt like I was looking for that void to be filled. For somebody to like fill his spot, even though I knew that wasn’t going to happen. Just somebody to accept me with all my stuff that I had going on. I wasn’t really going to church much, but I continued to feel God’s presence and just like the Holy Spirit inside me saying, “Emily you are better than this. This is not what I made you for.”
But now looking back on it, I think that [those mistakes are] part of my story. I think that’s just another example of God’s grace that He so freely gives to all of us. Maybe my mistakes were a chance for others to see that God will forgive even those sins. I think that is such a special part that people really miss about Christianity. Whenever you say you are Christian, it’s not you saying, ‘I’m perfect,’ and, ‘Look at me, I love Jesus.’ It’s, ‘I’m broken, just like you, but this amazing God has forgiven me for everything and for that I get to have hope for tomorrow.’
GUIDEPOSTS: When did you get peace about Ricky’s death and when did you feel comfortable moving on?
EM: I always have the picture [in my mind]. If Jesus went to Ricky and said “Hey, do you want to come back and be with your daughter and Emily?” He would say, “No, thanks! I’m good up here. I’ll just wait for them.” Up there, there’s no time and so for him it’s with a blink of the eye that we’ll all be there. But for us, we’re the ones that have to suffer down here. I’m still kind of struggling through that to help people who go through that same experience. But the only thing that really matters is the message of hope and grace, and the freedom of knowing that this earth doesn’t even matter. It’s all about serving a God that loves us.
As far as moving on, I think God gives you this peace no matter what choice you are trying to make, whether it’s knowing if this is the person I am supposed to spend the rest of my life with, or should I take this job? I think that God will give you a peace in your heart that you know can only come from Him.
GUIDEPOSTS: Is that how you felt about your husband, Tyler?
EM: Absolutely. When I met Tyler at church and we started dating, I knew in my heart of hearts that this was from God. I hadn’t felt that with the other ones. There was no drama and he loves the Lord more than anything. I kind of knew that something was off with my other relationships that I just tried to push away. Looking back I know that God was giving me that kind of uneasiness in my heart. I think He gives that to all of us if we are just able to tune into it. Really the only way to tune into that is through prayer. He’ll show you exactly what you are supposed to do. He gave me Tyler and he is just so respectful of Ricky and my relationship with him and my daughter’s relationship. Tyler and I are really close with Ricky’s parents and they love him like a son. It’s just really, really amazing. There’s peace. That’s how you know it’s from God.