Founder of Auntie Anne's shares how Christian faith saved her from sexual abuse, suicide
At first glance, Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne’s, encompasses the American Dream: A Mennonite farmer, she grew her business from a single stand in 1987 into the world’s largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise.
Beiler’s success, however, was forged after years of depression and shame stemming from tragedy in her life, including devastating personal loss, an abusive sexual relationship, and spiritual manipulation.
“Without God, there would be no Auntie Anne’s today. I can say that with confidence,” Beiler told The Christian Post. “I would’ve died. I was about to run away and start a new life. Instead, God said, ‘Get up off your knees.’ What I know now is that all of the things I’ve experienced have been for a purpose; out of my pain, purpose was born.”
Growing up in a small Amish community in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, Beiler was taught that “life is good, and God is harsh.”
“The theology I was taught as a little girl was very black and white,” she recounted. “I took those very conservative years with me well into my adulthood.”
At the age of 19, Beiler married her high school sweetheart, Jonas, and the two started a family. But Beiler’s life — and everything she thought she knew — was shattered when in 1975, her 18-month-old daughter Angela was tragically killed in a farming accident.
“I struggled so much and blamed God for allowing Angela to die,” she said. “I couldn’t stop grieving; I couldn’t stop crying. I began to feel guilty as a Christian because I believed that I was a conquerer and able to overcome and be victorious through Christ. But I couldn’t get over that deep sorrow and longing to see my daughter.”
“At the end of the day, I began to live a life pretending I was someone I wasn’t,” she continued. “I wasn’t able to be transparent about what I was experiencing. I would cry in secret and smile in public because I wasn’t able to describe where I was living in my heart. I went back to life as if nothing had ever happened.”
During this time, Beiler sought counsel from her pastor, a well-respected member of his community. But instead of giving her the help she needed, he seduced her and told her not to tell anyone.
“When I left his office, he took advantage of me physically, and that led to rape and six years of violence and secrets and darkness,” she said. “I never said a word to anyone for six years, because he told me not to. I believed in his leadership because that’s all I knew how to do.”
After nearly a decade of this spiritual and physical abuse, Beiler found herself on the brink of suicide, weighing just 92-pounds. All the while, she prayed by her bedside, begging God to save her from her pain.
“I kept in touch with God, and that’s the only thing that saved me,” she said. “Prayer is vital in our brokenness. No matter how dark it is, we must pray.”
The chains of sorrow and shame were finally broken when Beiler made the decision to tell her husband, Jonas, of the pain she’d silently endured for years. Slowly, the couple found God restoring their marriage as they took steps toward reconciliation.
“I decided to live out James 5:16, which tells us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another so that we will be healed,” she said. “I confessed my sins to my husband and practiced full honesty and transparency. It took me into a whole new world of light and truth.”
Slowly, Beiler began to share her story with others and was shocked to discover that her pastor — who she called “The Beast” — had also abused her sisters, daughter, and best friend.
“Confession is so important because it also makes it safe for others to share their stories,” Beiler said. “When we pretend, we sink into an abyss of seclusion. We go there quickly, and even though we haven’t sinned greatly, our struggles can take us there if we don’t do the 'one-to-another' with someone. Our husbands are great confidants; we can trust them, but we need to have other women in our corner that we can trust and share stories with.”
In 1988, the Beilers bought a concession stand at a busy farmers’ market in Downingtown, Pennsylvania. Before long, their soft pretzels were a hit and Auntie Anne’s Hand-Rolled Soft Pretzels was born. But despite her professional success, Beiler still felt the grip of depression and pain stemming from past abuses.
“That darkness from my past impacted my life for twenty years,” she admitted. “I experienced mild to major depression; found myself in a psychiatrist office and then a psychologist office.”
It wasn’t until Beiler encountered the work of Rev. Richard Dobbins, a pastor and psychologist who integrated psychological principles with faith, that she truly had the tools to heal.
“I loved the Lord, yet I still felt so burdened by all of the years of struggle and secrets,” she shared. “Finally, thirty years after Angie’s death, I was able to get to the point where I could forgive myself for all the pain I’d caused my family, daughter, and friends.”
“Now, there’s no more shame because Jesus not only died for my sins, He took upon Himself our shame,” she added. “Today, I’m free because of that. Today, I can share my story without any shame or guilt.”
Beiler shares her story of redemption in her new book, The Secret Lies Within, releasing September 10. She told CP the book is the result of her “years of struggle and secrets — and wanting to be all I can be for Christ.”
“I want to encourage others to be hopeful and to realize there is more to life than what they know right now,” she said. “In my darkest days, I would have never known there was more to life. We always settle in our pain, yet God has so much more for us. I want women in particular to understand the value of who they are in Christ.”
In 2005, Beiler sold Auntie Anne’s to fulfill her passion: Speaking to audiences on leadership, purpose, and the power of confession. In 2018, she founded Broken Silence with a mission of teaching and equipping women about living a lifestyle of confession. Today, she also sits on the board at the Museum of the Bible.
“Communication with God and confession took me into a world that has totally surprised me,” Beiler said. “I would never have known what God had in store for me. I want others to know that God has a plan for them and take the necessary steps to overcome trauma.”
She added, “I know now that life is hard, and God is good. I don't get it reversed anymore. God gave me a pretzel first, and then a platform to share my story — all for His glory.”