My podcast, Overcome With Auntie Anne, is all about the power of story--how sharing our stories, the pain, the hurt, the joys, and the sorrow, brings healing and freedom. And while I’m committed to bringing you these stories from all different people, I thought it was important, before we get too deep in the podcast, to share my story.
So in episodes two and three, I will be taking a step away from being the interviewer and become the interviewee. I’ve written extensively about my story elsewhere, but I encourage you to listen as I share the struggles that I’ve worked to overcome. Listen to the episode wherever you get your podcast or check out the highlights below.
Out of your pain, your purpose is born
I grew up in an Amish Mennonite family. Living on a farm meant the work was plentiful--milking the cows and bottling the milk, working in the garden and hoeing the weeds, there was always something to be done--and it was hard physical labor. Even though I didn’t enjoy the physical demands, the hard work was a part of life, so I just did it.
When I was about nine years old, I moved from the outdoors to the indoors. Because of allergies, I had to stay inside while my seven siblings--two girls and five boys--remained outside, working and playing in the fields. Even in the winter, I watched from the windows as my two sisters and best friends played for hours in the snow, having a good time and growing closer together without me. It was the first time in my life that I felt the pangs of rejection.
My time indoors, though, working in the kitchen alongside mom, brought the two of us closer together. As the third of eight children, I often felt unnoticed. But cooking and baking alongside my mom helped me to feel seen for the first time. Being in the kitchen developed my love for baking, and years later came in handy when we launched the worldwide soft pretzel enterprise, Auntie Anne’s .
The good life brings tragedy
Long before I became “Auntie Anne,” though, I was a simple Mennonite girl. At 19, I married the love of her life, Jonas Beiler, and we had two daughters, Lawonna and Angie. I was living the life of my dreams and thought that’s how it would always be. But everything changed on September 8th, 1975.
I was 26 at the time, living in a double-wide with Jonas and the girls only a couple of hundred feet from my parent’s house. Separating the two houses was a barn where my dad, a stonemason, set up shop. Lawonna and Angie would freely walk around the property and go back and forth between the two houses.
My younger sister, Fi, was still living at home with our parents and helped with the family business. Every morning, she’d load up sand with a Bobcat tractor, always looking around and carefully watching for the girls while doing so. But this particular morning, Angie headed over to the grandparent’s house a little earlier than usual. As Fi went to back up the tractor, she turned around to make sure no one was behind her, and not seeing anyone, kept going. But when Fi turned back around to start going forward, she saw Angie lying on the ground. Fi had accidentally run over her, and Angie was killed instantly.
As that was happening, I was inside calling my mom to say Angie was on her way over when I heard horrible screaming and shrieking, unlike anything I ever heard before. I knew it was Angie. As she ran out the door, my dad was carrying Angie while crying and saying, “I believe she’s dead. I believe she’s dead.” I couldn’t move. I was frozen.
Immediately the guilt set in. “If I would have been a better mom, if I would have paid attention, if I would have done what I was supposed to like any good mother would do, Angie would still be alive.” I had a hard time holding Angie in the moments that followed because I didn’t know how to hold a dead baby, and I had a hard time looking at her because if I did, I’d have to admit she’s gone. I went from being a happy mama to a wailing mama and couldn’t make sense of the tragedy.
Let’s just pretend
One of the lessons I remember from growing up comes from a saying my mom often recited, “Little children, love each other. Do not give each other pain. When one speaks to you in anger, do not answer them again.”
As a way to manage a house of eight kids, the lesson helps to keep the peace. But as a life lesson, it communicates, “just suck it up.”
The months that followed Angie’s death were filled with me just “sucking it up.” Because I was so accustomed to dealing with pain by not talking about it, I didn’t have the vocabulary or the skills to respond to the tragedy I just experienced. Those childhood words taught me to be silent, and that’s what I did.
I became accustomed to (and really good at) pretending in my public moments and grieving in my private moments.
I learned to weep alone--while Jonas was at work and after everyone went to bed--but if anyone came to visit, I’d wipe away the tears and pretend everything was okay. As a peacemaker, I didn’t want others to have to carry my burdens, and pretending was my way of keeping the peace.
I pretended to keep the peace with Fi too. I genuinely wasn’t angry at my younger sister. I understood it was an accident, and I believed there was nothing to forgive. Still, I felt I needed to be strong to care for her. Fi was planning a wedding just six weeks away, which Angie was supposed to be the flower girl in, and I wanted her to be alright. So I pretended and never let anyone know the actual pain I felt.
But after four or five months of crying silently and grieving privately, I couldn’t do it anymore.
A listening ear
I found a safe place at the altar of the church on Sunday mornings. It was a place I went and wept silently--a place where I could talk to God. Then, one Sunday morning, my pastor, a trusted friend that I’d known for years, recognized the hurt I was going through. He offered to talk with me the following day.
At that moment, I felt seen by somebody. My pastor noticed my hurt. He noticed my pain. And where I previously felt like I needed to pretend and be silent, I now felt free to open up and share all that I was feeling and experiencing. So that’s what I did.
I not only shared about the pain associated with Angie’s death, but I also shared about the distance between Jonas and me that came about as a result. I felt like she was disconnecting from her best friend and didn’t know how to reconnect. My pastor listened and shared that Jonas would never be able to meet my needs again and that it was impossible for us to reconnect because of the tragedy.
But, he said, as a pastor and as a spiritual leader, he could meet my needs. That’s when things started to take a turn for the worse.
To learn the rest of the story, check out Episode 3 of Overcoming With Auntie Anne or read the show notes for highlights.