By Tré Goins-Phillips
On paper, Anne Beiler, founder of Auntie Anne’s, looks like the quintessential achiever of American success. But the path to where she is now is one paved with great pain and deep heartache.
After surviving sexual and spiritual abuse at the hands of a minister following profound personal loss, it took Beiler years to find healing, which ultimately came through the power of confession — a profound story she chronicles in her forthcoming book, “The Secret Lies Within.”
The secret to her healing was speaking. “Please tell,” Beiler said during a phone interview with Faithwire, her voice filled with emotion. “You must tell to get better.”
Beiler, who grew up in an Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was taught from an early age to believe God was wrathful and “harsh” to his people. So, when she married her husband Jonas at just 19 years old, and the couple soon thereafter experienced the tragic death of their 18-month-old daughter, Angela, in 1975, Beiler’s world came crashing down around her.
“When Angie was killed, I found myself going into a deep, dark, and emotional and spiritual confusion in every way,” she recalled. “And my husband and I began to drift apart.”
Struggling to cope with her daughter’s death, which came as the result of a freak farming accident, Beiler did what many Christians do every single day: she turned to the pastor of her charismatic church for counsel.
What she needed, though, is not what she found. Beiler was soon seduced by her pastor — a well-liked member of the community — and told to stay quiet about his sexual advances.
“I decided when I left his office that I would never tell anyone,” Beiler said. “Because, No. 1, who would believe me? He was a loved man in the church and in the community. And No. 2, I would never know how to tell that kind of an experience. That secret kept me in an abusive relationship for over six years.”
She went on to describe that time as “the darkest, most despairing” season of her life, at one point weighing a mere 92 pounds and on the brink of suicide. The only thing sustaining Beiler was prayer — and she was barely hanging on. Ultimately, she was able to find safety in speaking and healing in confession.
A big part of Beiler’s healing process was truly understanding the meaning behind James 5:16, in which the apostle wrote, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”
“There’s only one way out, really, truly,” she said. “It’s through the power of confession. My freedom came about when God spoke to me and said, ‘Get up off your knees and go tell your husband what’s going on in your life.’”
The abuse wasn’t her sin or her fault, but harboring the secret of her suffering was deepening her despair. She needed to confess it, though she was convinced her husband would abandon her because she believed the lie that the trauma she experienced was her fault. She knew, though, she needed to tell her husband. He needed to be first.
Beiler remembered getting into her small pickup truck in Troup, Texas, and driving to her husband’s office at a nearby car repair shop. Her palms sweating and her heart racing, she was confident her marriage would crumble in an instant.
As soon as she got to Jonas’ office, she quickly uttered a two-line confession of what she had suffered — still believing it was her fault — “and then I said, ‘I’m really sorry and I’m a sorry person,’ and I walked off.”
Thankfully, she was wrong. Beiler said her husband “never once” blamed her or criticized her but “somehow knew” immediately what she confessed to him was sexual abuse. And together, they began marital counseling. “That was the beginning of a very long process,” Beiler said. “All I can tell you is we’re married 51 years in September, and the power of confession changes the trajectory of your entire life.”
Slowly, and at times painfully, God began to restore their relationship. To women who have experienced abuse or assault and are fearful of speaking out, uncertain they have the strength to reveal their stories, Beiler encourages them to lean solely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
After years of work with her husband, with professional counselors, and through prayer, “I can share my story without any pain,” Beiler said with tears in her eyes. “I no longer need to blame, I’m no longer guilty, and I have no shame.”
“That’s the good news of the Gospel, because Jesus paid the price,” she continued. “He paid the price for my shame. And let me tell you, the power of confession took away all of my shame — all of it, 100 percent of my shame. It’s a miracle. It’s the power of the Cross and the power of confession.”
Speaking of her redeemed marriage to Jonas, Beiler said it’s “a work of grace” they are “still one” and “can’t imagine life without each other. We are loving each other in a way I never imagined possible,” she added.
As for Auntie Anne’s, Beiler and her husband started the famous soft pretzel company in 1988, when they bought a lone concession stand in a busy farmers’ market in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, and ultimately turned it into the largest hand-rolled soft pretzel franchise in the world.
Eager to give back, Beiler started the wildly successful business more than 30 years ago in order to fund Jonas’ dream of opening a free family counseling clinic for their community. And it worked.
Beiler sold Auntie Anne’s in 2005 and now spends her days telling people all around the world about leadership, sharing her faith, and preaching about the power of confession. “I’m so grateful,” Beiler said.