Nik Nikic: God has a plan for you. And if you’re willing to follow it, you’re going to live an amazing life, whether it’s what you think it should be or not. We’ve learned through this journey that God has a plan that’s much bigger and much more complex than anything we can understand. And so our job is just to follow it, and trust God that He’s going to lead us in the right place.
Come Just As You Are, You Matter to God: Chris and Nik Nikic & Brittany Maher and Cassandra Speer – Episode #324
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. So many of us are running a race to win the affection and approval of those around us. Did you ever stop to consider how much of your own identity you might be sacrificing to live up to some standard that others have prescribed for you? If we are solely living to ensure that other people love us, we give them the power to determine our self-worth. There’s a better way. When we recognize that our identity is rooted in our status as wholly created by God, we can enjoy the spiritual benefits of forgiveness, a personal relationship with God, and the knowledge that our life matters, not because others say it does, but because God says it does.
Our guests this week share about the goals and expectations they had for happiness and fulfillment, laced with presuppositions about what would actually bring them happiness—only to find that God was showing them that their happiness and worth would ultimately spring through their identities as His beloved children.
We’ll start this episode by hearing from Nik Nikic and his son Chris. In November 2020, Chris Nikic became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman, a series of long-distance triathlon races, which brought Chris and his dad to international attention and inspired thousands to believe they were made for more than what others told them they could do or be.
Nik: [Before Chris was born] we didn’t want to understand what Down syndrome was, because we were embarrassed to say that we didn’t even know people with Down syndrome. We didn’t know what it was. And so our dream of seeing our son do amazing things essentially dissipated.
Honestly, we didn’t really expect much because the world told us not to expect much. And for the first eighteen years of Chris’s life, while we tried hard, we succumbed to the beliefs of society for what our children can and can’t do. And to a point, we accepted them.
At the time, Chris had also just come off of four major ear surgeries, had spent a couple of years essentially recovering—inactive, gained a lot of weight, became sedentary, more isolated. I saw high school ending and I thought, This can’t be the future for our son.
Believing There Can Be More for Our Lives
Nik: You want to tell what happened at Lucky Lake Shore?
Chris: So, most people were swimming in open water, and I do that. And so I swim down and back.
Nik: How far was that?
Chris: It was like one thousand.
Nik: Yep! A thousand meters. And then what did you write on the wall?
Chris: I just put “Chris World Champ.”
Nik: And that was when that started.
Before that, he would walk or crawl through the lake or whatever. But it took him about a year and a half where he could do a fourteen-mile sprint triathlon. Then he did that Lucky Lake swim, signed the wall, “Chris World Champ,” and I looked at him and I said, “Well, that’s interesting.” That’s when I—you know, throughout this journey, I started listening to what my son was saying and not dismissing him, which is a lot of what we were doing before, unfortunately.
That was about a year and a half from the time he started doing triathlons. So we started doing triathlons with the Special Olympics in the spring of 2018.
Chris started just a little bit at a time until he could get to where he could do a sprint, which took about a year and a half where he could actually do a sprint, you know, running, swimming, and biking. And I asked him why he wanted to be a world champ, and he just said, “I want to be a world champ.”
I said, “Okay.” At that point, I said, “Well, buddy, one way you could be a world champ is if you do an Ironman because no one with Down syndrome has ever attempted or done that, that would make you a world champ.”
He said, “Okay, let’s do it.”
Taking on the Ironman by Getting 1% Better Every Day
Nik: How did you get one percent better each day?
Chris: So, I started with one push-up, sit-up, and squat, and then in Florida, I was at 200. And then by February, I’ll be doing 500.
Nik: How many do [you do] now? What’s the most you’ve done now?
Nik: 380, yeah, so you’re up to 380 push-ups, sit-ups, and squats. So that’s kind of how he does it. Every exercise he does, he just thinks about doing one more, and he just builds on it just one more, just one more. He does that with swimming, with biking, running, with speed work, with pushups, sit ups, and squats. And now he’s doing it with learning. You’re learning vocabulary, learning speaking. And so he’s applying the same principle to his cognitive development, so he can learn things that he needs to learn to become self-sufficient and independent.
Before Chris set the goal to do an Ironman before the pandemic started, he signed up for Florida Ironman in November of 2020. People kept saying, “You know it’s going to get canceled. Chris isn’t ready for the ocean because the waves are too big.” People kept coming up with all kinds of things. “Chris won’t be ready. He won’t finish. He doesn’t have what it takes.” Everybody else was so hung up with whether or not he could finish [The Ironman]. We just were pursuing God’s will in our life, and we thought that’s what God put into our hearts and in Chris’s heart when he set that goal to be a world champ.
“Everybody else was so hung up with whether or not he could finish [the Ironman]. We just were pursuing God’s will in our life, and we thought that’s what God put into our hearts and in Chris’s heart when he set that goal to be a world champ.” – Nik Nikic
A year later, he completed the Ironman, which is ten times the distance of the sprint that he had just completed.
Everybody, no matter what their means are, can achieve amazing things, whether it’s work, or education, or a better marriage, or whatever it is. It’s a process and it is just about being happy about getting a little bit better each day and just becoming a better version of yourself every day.
“Everybody, no matter what their means are, can achieve amazing things, whether it’s work, or education, or a better marriage, or whatever it is. It’s a process. And it’s just about being happy about getting a little bit better each day and just becoming a better version of yourself every day.” – Nik Nikic
We just ask every day that God gives us the understanding of His will for our life, that He helps us to see it, and then helps us to have the strength to pursue it with joy and with happiness, and with all of our gifts that He’s given to us. Chris did it. So can you.
Narrator: Chris and Nik have a book where they tell more of Chris’s incredible story. You can find 1% Better: Reaching My Full Potential, and You Can Too, wherever books are sold.
Stay tuned to Brittany Maher and Cassandra Speer’s story after a brief message.
When We’re Looking for Hope, Jesus Listens
Sometimes life can be really stressful, whether it’s personal difficulties or world issues that make us feel overwhelmed. When we’re looking for hope and connection amid struggle, God is still there, ready for us to turn to him in prayer.
That’s why Sarah Young wrote Jesus Listens: to deliver a message of peace, love and hope to her readers every day. Jesus Listens is a 365-day prayer devotional with short, heartfelt prayers based on scripture, written to deepen your relationship with God.
Narrator: Brittany Maher was hollowed out and disenchanted with the beauty industry after putting years of hard work and basing her self-worth on her career. Out of desperation and seeking real community with other women who were looking for answers beyond the shallow, she began an Instagram page called Her True Worth. After a serendipitous meeting with Cassandra Speer on Instagram, they teamed together to reach over 1.6 million women worldwide with a message about how they all could find their true worth in God.
Brittany Maher: I’m Brittany. I’m a mama and a wife to an amazing man of God, and I use what God gave me to glorify Him and help others to know Him. And that is what my heart beats for.
Cassandra Speer: My name is Cassandra Speer, and I am Britt’s bestie, co-author, ministry partner, and co-leader of Her True Worth—an incredible ministry community online that reaches millions of women worldwide. I’m a mom of three tiny humans, and I am a proud wife of a US Air Force veteran.
Letting Go of a Counterfeit Identity
Brittany: So my experience in the beauty industry started in my early twenties.
I actually started out as a fitness trainer, and I did that for about a year. I ended up changing careers to being a makeup artist pretty early on just because I started to develop an unhealthy relationship with working out, and I became very obsessed with my body image. And it’s funny because when I worked as a makeup artist, I actually fell into that same trap of placing my worth and value in my appearance. I became so disheartened by those false messages—that unless our makeup, hair, body are perfect by culture standards, only then am I worthy. I found myself very entrapped in that culture of trying to meet an internal longing to be worthy of the space I take up in this world with external means.
“I became so disheartened by those false messages—that unless our makeup, hair, body are perfect by culture standards, only then am I worthy.” – Brittany Maher
Cassandra: So similarly to Britt, I also came from the beauty industry. I actually did hair for over a decade. And I remember working as an apprentice in a swanky, upscale salon and spa environment. I truly believed that, like, I had arrived because I was my dream job. It was such a rude awakening when that job was taken away from me, because in that environment, I was really immersed in the concept of your value being external.
And it wasn’t until I lost that job that I realized just how deeply the concept of appearance and vanity and the way that you look and the way that people perceive you, how much of a hold it had on me. Like Brittany said, it was a counterfeit identity. And it’s very much a dangerous place to be in when anything that isn’t Christ gets to determine my value and my identity. When I lost that job, it really felt like I had lost myself, if I’m being totally honest. And God really met me in the middle of that.
“When I lost that job, it really felt like I had lost myself, if I’m being totally honest. And God really met me in the middle of that.” – Cassandra Speer
Brittany: We’re such a social media-saturated world right now that it’s easy to fall into the trap of assigning our value as people, as women, to who’s following us, who’s liking what we’re posting. And that suddenly becomes the deciding factor of, Am I worthy or not? Am I seen, am I liked?
I think sometimes we can assign our worth to who do others see us to be, right? And if people are seeing us [differently than we want them to], then we somehow feel like we’re falling short.
I was just in a very desperate place of trying to find my own worth, and I found myself chasing after it in the wrong places like body image, beauty, success, relationships. That actually drove me to start Her True Worth coming out of the makeup industry back in 2015. And it really wasn’t until I discovered my worth and value in Christ through His Word that I ended my search.
Reflecting Our Truest Selves Through Christ
Brittany: Her True Worth comes from the idea that anything other than Christ defining our worth is a counterfeit. So we named the ministry “Her True Worth” as a reflection of our truest self, an immense value and worth being hidden in Christ.
Cass and I actually met on Instagram, which is hilarious because I met my husband on Instagram. So Instagram has been just an amazing open door for God to bring these wonderful relationships into my life.
When I was on the Explore page one time, I was looking for some new writers, and I found Cass’s work and what she was saying in her on her platform. The truth she was always speaking really resonated with me, and I just was drawn to her. It was a total Holy Spirit partnership type of situation.
And, you know, we brought her on as a writer and then through very many conversations I just said, “Hey, do you want to lead this with me? Do you want to be my co-leader in this ministry?” I just felt like her story, her background, just was kind of that missing puzzle piece to Her True Worth.
Then one thing led to another, and God opened the door for us to write a book together. And we developed the concept of Her True Worth: Breaking Free from a Culture of Selfies, Side Hustles, and People Pleasing to Embrace Your True Identity in Christ. Because we saw that those specific things in that subtitle were felt needs that we needed to meet.
Knowing You’re Seen, Valued, and Loved
Cassandra: I think for at least for our community, it’s really been important for us to speak into that pain point of needing to know that we’re seen, that we’re valued, and that we’re loved. And the world has a million reasons why we know that that can’t possibly be true.
The first devotional I ever owned was a Jesus Calling devotional. I remember being nineteen years old, having dedicated my life to Christ, and really being weary and wounded and wandering and looking for my worth and my value. And it wasn’t until I had that devotional that I was able to actually imagine that it could be true for me. Reading the devotional was like having God Himself speaking into my heart with the truth of His Word.
Brittany: Prayer and reading the Bible is like breathing in and breathing out: you can’t have one without the other. And we have to partner with God’s Word and His truth so that we can write it on the tablets of our heart and know exactly what He says about us. Like I said, I know that I have worth to God because He paid the utmost, highest cost for my salvation, which is the life of Jesus. That’s how I know I have worth to Him. Nothing else tops that.
“Prayer and reading the Bible is like breathing in and breathing out: you can’t have one without the other.” – Brittany Maher
Cassandra: And we see this time and time again in our community. We’ll look to so many different things to define us, whether it’s our greatest wins, our biggest failures, our social media likes, relationship status, our roles, responsibilities, people, places, things. All of these things are not inherently evil. But when we allow anything that is not Christ to define us, we find ourselves in a really dangerous place. That’s the main concern that we like to address, is helping women to know what their worth is and rather who their worth is found in.
Brittany: The most pressing concern that stands out is how to break free from surviving off of the affirmation and praise of others. We’re created by God to actually need affirmation. When we look for that affirmation in other places, we allow our worth and our value to rise and fall on if we’re being praised or not.
“We’re created by God to actually need affirmation. When we look for that affirmation in other places, we allow our worth and our value to rise and fall on if we’re being praised or not.” – Brittany Maher
Another thing we speak into is how to live securely in your identity in Christ so that you don’t need people to affirm your identity. Because a lot of that affirmation comes from that innate need to be seen and worthy and valued. And when we aren’t getting that from God as the source of what our identity comes from, then we will look for it elsewhere. And we will always be chasing our own tail, trying to find it in anything other than Christ.
Cassandra: Yeah. So the most important thing for us to understand when we’re trying to tackle putting affirmation in its rightful place, especially when it comes to social media, is that we need to understand first and foremost our need for affirmation, to be affirmed, to be validated, to be approved of is a God-given design. And the important thing for us is to recognize that although God has put us in the position to need affirmation from each other, we also find ourselves in situations like most good things that we can allow the good thing to become a God thing.
And so in order to help us understand, when we found ourselves in a situation when affirmations are unhealthy, we need to be able to recognize what healthy affirmation looks like. And in order to do that, it’s really important that we realize that (A) we can’t keep up with the opinions of others, and (B), the cost of keeping up is too much. We really can’t. We were never designed to be able to be affirmed and to look to that for the approval of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of strangers on the Internet. God intended for us to be in relationship with each other and first and foremost with Him.
Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.” People’s opinions change, seasons change, relationships change, social media algorithms change. We cannot place our value and our identity in these things because they’re movable. If we place our value and our worth in the affirmation of others and not in God, we will fall when their opinions shift.
It’s tempting to find my worth and value in social media or in the approval of others. But the fact of the matter is that those things shift and change. But God remains the same—who He is, what His son has done on the cross. That is what holds the ultimate merit of worth. That is the measuring of my value. That is who I am.
“It’s tempting to find my worth and value in social media, or in the approval of others. But the fact of the matter is that those things shift and change. But God remains the same.” – Cassandra Speer
My identity is hidden in Christ, and I live in that by immersing myself in His Word. I live in that by praying without ceasing. I live in that by confronting all the lies, all the false beliefs, all of the things that I’ve placed my value in.
Brittany: This is a passage from Jesus Listens on July 27th:
How thankful I am to be a child of God! Someday I will see You as You are: I’ll be face to Face with You in Glory! Now, however, I am in training—putting on the new self and being made new in the attitude of my mind. Although my new self is being conformed to Your image, I’m thankful that this process doesn’t erase the essence of who I am. On the contrary, the more I become like You, the more I develop into the unique person You created me to be.
In Your regal Name, Jesus, Amen
Narrator: You can read Brittany and Cassandra’s story in their book, Her True Worth, available now wherever books are sold.
If you’d like to hear more stories about believing what God says about you, check out our interview with Amanda Jane Cooper.
Next Week: Carlos & Alexa PenaVega
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we’ll hear from husband and wife actors Carlos and Alexa PenaVega, who experienced ups and downs in their acting careers—together and apart—and describe how God worked in their lives when they began to trust Him more and more.
Alexa PenaVega: Really dive deep with God. Because when you start to dive deep with God, the things you never thought you would be able to get away from fall off.
That’s what happened with me. I didn’t have this big, like, Oh man, I’ve been working at this for months, and I finally had this breakthrough. God just did it for me, because I kept giving things over to Him little by little. He transformed my life in every way. That was one of the ways that He was working in my life.