Responding to Nudges from the Spirit: Anne Neilson & Nikki Speer
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Anne Neilson: Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. And I feel like when we are delighting ourselves in Him, He will show us the path.
Responding to Nudges from the Spirit: Anne Neilson & Nikki Speer – Episode #223
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. There are times in our lives when we feel something—or Someone—nudging us toward creating or doing things in ways we wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Today’s guests—artist and author Anne Neilson and nonprofit founder Nikki Speer—share remarkable stories of moments when they followed God’s prompting and discovered the mission He had in mind just for them.
As an artist, Anne Neilson paints with passion and purpose. She’s created a series of beautiful angel paintings as a hallmark of her faith. And over the years, Anne has watched God, the master creator, use her talents on the canvas as a ministry to inspire others. She shares a few of the remarkable people God has placed into her path, and how she believes, when inspired by God, the things we create from our hands and the words that we speak have amazing power to bring healing and hope into other people’s lives.
Anne Neilson: So I’m Anne Neilson, well-known as the Angel Painter. I’m a wife of twenty-six years, married to my husband, Clark, with four children.
As a little girl, I knew that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. And in fact, in the third grade, I wrote a little—it was like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I wanted to be an artist. I knew deep in my heart that God had created me to create. I was always doodling and drawing and took little art lessons. Anything creative, I got my hands involved.
I was twenty-eight when I finally got my elementary education degree. And one year I taught third grade and then I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, kind of started dabbling in pottery and started a hand-painted pottery line. And that’s when the whole—just kind of started bubbling up and the whole art career started.
I met my husband and quickly we started having children. I was teaching third grade and I was in the poorest of the poorest areas. But when I went in there, the teacher said, “Oh, this child, he’s a talker. This child, he’s not going to amount up to anything. This child is disruptive.” I mean, they had labels for all these children. And, you know, I just took all those labels off of them, and I just replaced them with words of affirmation.
One of them was Willie. And Willie was the talkative, disruptive one that’s not going to listen to the teacher. And that little Willie, at the end of that school year, he was a studier. He was precious. I feel like our words and the words that come out of our mouth are going to be very impactful.
I love being a mom. I built a little studio off my kitchen. So when they were off at school, I would get in there and kind of start painting a little bit. And that was in 2003. I got a little light shadow box, put a single pear in there, and I did a still life of a pear. And I was pretty proud of my pear, of the composition, the color, the lighting.
And my second daughter walked in. She was probably, I don’t know, ten or eleven. And she looked at that and said, “Mom, you need art lessons.”
That kind of crushed my dreams, but I kept going and I did get some art lessons. I was painting landscapes and still lifes, some figures, and just trying to find my voice, my rhythm.
I’ll never forget this. One day, I painted this one angel. And I thought, Hmm. I sent an image to my sister. And I said, “What do you think?” And she said, “I think you found your voice.” And I thought, Okay, well, I’ll paint a few more of those. So I kept painting the angels.
The Power of Showing Up for Others
There were times that I really questioned, Is this what God has called me to do? Is this what God has called me to do? And, you know, time and time again, He kept reminding me, “This is what I’ve called you to do.” He just kept bringing those opportunities, bringing those people into my life. I think one that was very powerful was Steven Curtis Chapman.
“There were times that I really questioned, Is this what God has called me to do?” – Anne Neilson
The news came out of his little daughter, Maria Sue, passing and I went into mourning. I was just devastated. And so I prayed and prayed and I thought, Okay, I’m gonna paint them a little angel. So I went into my studio, praise music going, it was it all Steven’s music. Out comes this painting. It was a little angel with her hair tousled and a red ponytail, kind of different colors that are not typical of my color palette.
Months passed. I’m in a Bible study. We’re talking about how we keep God in a box and, you know, we have such a big God. I mean, He can do big things. But I’m sitting there and I’m telling the story about the painting for the Chapmans. I said, “I probably will never hear from them,” but just out of obedience, I sent this painting.
I get an email from the Chapmans and it’s, “My gosh, let me tell you about this painting. We about dropped it when we opened it. The colors were the exact same colors of our home. And little Maria Sue always wore hair tousled in a red ponytail.”
God has put these people in my path. He weaves us all together. And it’s for a purpose that we might not even know. Even with Kathie Lee, who is truly one of my dearest soulmate friends.
“God has put these people in my path. He weaves us all together, and it’s for a purpose that we might not even know.” – Anne Neilson
I self-published my first book because I had no idea of how to even reach out to a publisher. We got Angels in Our Midst in October of 2012.
I did send Kathie Lee a book, and everybody’s like, “Why’d you send Kathie Lee a book?” And, you know, when I was painting pottery, I was a Regis and Kathie Lee junkie. I mean, I loved watching them. I knew Kathie’s heart, and I knew that she would be blessed by this book. But also marketing 101, I just kind of wanted to get on the TODAY Show, I had no idea that we would become good friends. But I thought This may be a way to get on the Today show.
I got an email back from her saying, “Oh my gosh, I’m gonna be late for the first time ever to start my show.” It was 9:50 in the morning, one Thursday morning. And she said, “We have got to meet this side of heaven. How, when, where?”
I was asked to do a show in Essex, Connecticut. And so she said, “Well, that’s about an hour and a half from my house, maybe two hours, and maybe I could come meet you there.” I packed up my husband, my two children, and off we went to Connecticut. The show was on a Saturday. So Friday, Kathie emailed me and said, “I’m not going to be able to make it.” And I’ll never forget, we’re sitting in our little rental car in front of the gallery. And my kids were just griping and complaining. And I turned around and said, “We are not going to complain. We are going to pray right now that whether one person comes to this show or nobody comes to the show, we are going to be blessed and we are going to be a blessing. So button it up and let’s go in with a grateful attitude.”
The gallery manager comes up and says, “Kathie Lee is out front.”
And I was like, “Really?” So I went out front. She gave me the biggest hug.
She goes, “I guess you’re wondering why I’m here.” She said, “The Lord woke me up early this morning and said I needed to come and encourage you.”
I was like, “Okay, wow.”
She prays for me in the gallery. She leaves, she gives me her cell phone. She said, “Monday, I’m going to hold this book up. Are you ready?”
And I said, “Sure, yeah, I’m ready.”
So Monday comes, she holds it up as one of her favorite things. And the website blows up. About a couple of days later, I get a phone call, and I’ll never forget, I was at the bank. It’s Kathie. I pull into a little parking space and we sit there for about an hour, and we just share.
We just formed this friendship. And over the past seven years, it’s just gone deeper and deeper and deeper. And I will say if I need anything or she needs anything, we are there for each other. And she has become one of my incredible sisters in Christ and huge supporters of, “God has called you to do this. You have been given this gift. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You go out there, you paint.”
And at that moment, I knew that this kind of shifted from just being a passion to being a ministry that is totally different than you would ever expect.
Jesus Calling: A “Powerful Tool”
My oldest daughter begged and begged and begged to go off to boarding school, and ninth grade, she stayed home. But tenth grade we decided, “Okay, if that’s what you’re gonna do, we can do that.” And she went off to this small little boarding school in Raleigh, North Carolina, it was an all girls school. The day I dropped her off, it was August 23rd, I got her all settled in her dorm, and I’m driving home and I’m sobbing because I’m like, What have I done?
And I’ll never forget coming home and sitting in my chair and picking up my copy of Jesus Calling. It was August 23rd, and it says, “Entrust your loved ones to me; release them into My protective care. They’re much safer with Me than in your clinging hands.” And boy, were my hands clinging.
I have been a Jesus Calling fan for I can’t tell you how long. It is something that I go to and share and pass out like lollipops because I do believe that it’s anointed.
That was just an anointed time through the devotional Jesus Calling that spoke to my heart and really told me I have got to release them into the Lord’s hands. I can’t cling on to them. So it has been a powerful tool in my life for so many years and hopefully in the lives of so many.
Recognizing the Beauty of the Master Artist
I feel like my life is a devotional. I feel like God really shows me just things in the natural and the physical world that relate so closely to the spiritual world. And so I thought, I wish I could write a devotional.
And so I started praying about that. Words are powerful, the words that come out of our mouth, the words that are spoken to our friends, our children, our colleagues, our employees, to ourselves. Words are powerful.
“Words are powerful—the words that come out of our mouth, the words that are spoken to our friends, our children, our colleagues, our employees, to ourselves.“ – Anne Neilson
So we just kind of put together this forty-day—well, the title of the devotional is Anne Nielson’s Angels: Devotions and Art to Encourage, Refresh, and Inspire. But it is forty words, whether it’s forgiveness or busy or love. And we’ve taken that word, we’ve paired it with an angel. I have painted 40 new angels for this devotional.
It’s a word that people can take and use daily. Let’s just take busy [for example]. The number one word that I get is, “Oh my gosh, you are so busy.” And the number one thing that I don’t want to do is glorify that word. I want people to know—we’re all busy. Whether you’re a mom with toddlers, whether you’re a lawyer or a doctor, a mom with teens, an artist. We are all busy. But I want to transform that word into: Be Uniquely Serving Yahweh by doing what is specifically yours. And I hope that it truly is a blessing, especially today in our broken, fractured, very surreal world that we’re living in now.
I’ve had people that have come and shared their story of their child that has died, whether they have committed suicide, or died of an overdose, or their spouse has passed away. It has been a powerful story after a powerful story, knowing that these angels do bring comfort and healing through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit, through art. You know, God is the Master Artist. He is the Master Creator.
“These angels do bring comfort and healing through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit, through art. You know, God is the master Artist. He is the master Creator.” – Anne Neilson
Narrator: Anne’s new book, Anne Neilson’s Angels, is available for pre-order and hits stores on November 10th.
Plus, you can learn more about Anne and see a gallery of her beautiful angels in the Fall 2020 edition of the Jesus Calling Magazine. You can read it online at jesuscalling.com/magazine, and subscribe to receive the next issue in Winter 2021.
Stay tuned to Nikki Speer’s story after this brief message.
The COVID-19 global pandemic has disrupted everyday life in some way for nearly everyone on the planet. Yet, Samaritan’s Purse continues to share the eternal hope of the gospel and to serve in Jesus’ name. We are trusting God as we make plans to collect Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes, just as we always have, during National Collection Week in November. Another great option to share God’s love is to build a shoebox online. It’s a convenient and personal way to build shoebox gifts directly from home. Build one by choosing from an exciting list of gifts, then adding a letter and a photo. We’ll pack it for you and send it off. We want boys and girls around the world to know that God loves them, and He has not forgotten them during this time of fear and uncertainty. Every gift-filled shoebox is a tangible expression of God’s love.
Get the latest updates, and build a shoebox online at Samaritan’s Purse.org/occ.
Narrator: Cancer is a companion that Nikki Speer never wanted to have. She watched the disease trickle slowly across the women in her family: first an aunt, then her grandmother, followed by another aunt—and then her very own mother. After her mom’s third battle with cancer, one day Nikki felt God nudging her to do something about it: to design a shirt for women recovering from surgery so they could feel beautiful again, the way Nikki desperately wanted her mother to feel. Though she had no knowledge of fashion or manufacturing, Nikki jumped into her calling feet first. And when she did, she discovered God was there to keep nudging her on the path forward.
Nikki Speer: I am Nikki Speer. I am a wife to Jared of sixteen years, and a mom to three amazing children, Colin, Savannah, and Emma. And I am also an author and a speaker, and the founder of the nonprofit Redefined Courage.
A Family Torn Apart by Cancer
When my mom was first diagnosed with breast cancer, it was 2006. I actually can remember right where I was in my living room when she came to share the news that now she had breast cancer. And it was devastating. I was a mom of two at that time. My youngest was six months old and my son was five. It was such a difficult day. I kind of feel like the whole world stopped in that moment when she shared this news with me.
It was not the first time that I heard the words breast cancer, but it was the first time I would hear it from my mom. The first time I heard breast cancer was actually 1998, I believe it was, with my first aunt being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Fast forward to the 2000s. My mom’s youngest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and my grandmother was also diagnosed with breast cancer, my mom’s mom. So 2006 was when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she went through chemo and had surgery and went through her year checkup as clean and no more evidence of cancer.
At my mom’s five-year checkup, they did find cancer again in the same breast that she was diagnosed the first time. She went through surgery, chemo, and radiation for this second time. My grandmother was still going through cancer, and my aunt as well. While my mom was undergoing her treatment, my aunt passed away, and shortly after my grandmother passed away. Mom would never fully recover from the surgery and the treatment.
Cancer came back with a vengeance and decided to come back on her skin, which was the third time she had cancer, so spots had started to form after radiation and those spots ended up opening up and unfortunately started eating her alive from the bottom of her neck to the bottom of her torso. And she was wrapped like a burn victim for a good majority of a year and a half, as these spots would open and attach to one another. And yes, she lived her life like that for a year and a half. Incredible pain, but nobody would have known, nobody would have known. She wouldn’t let on. That’s how amazing she was.
Deciding to Give Hope to Women Who Battle
I made a very bold promise to my mom in October 2015. We were actually walking out of a very large mall in Syracuse, New York, after my mom had tried on a lot of clothing from amazing stores, stores that she normally would have bought clothes. But in this moment, she had battled breast cancer now three times. It had ravaged her body. She had no breasts. She had a chemo belly, lymphedema in both arms, and she no longer felt like a woman.
We were walking out of the mall and I made the bold promise that I would design clothing for her so that she could feel beautiful. I really had no business saying that, because I don’t have a degree in fashion. I don’t really know what prompted me, I guess it was the fact that I saw this woman that I’ve always thought was beautiful in my eyes not feel beautiful. And I thought if my mom felt this way, for sure there were other women that we’re feeling this exact same way my mom was feeling in this moment, and I wanted to do something about it.
“We were walking out of the mall, and I made the bold promise that I would design clothing for her so that she could feel beautiful.” – Nikki Speer
When it hit me that I made this promise is when I felt a nudge, I believe, from the Lord to draw a shirt when I was waiting for my plane in the airport on my way home. It would help women in their first experience or their first surgery—breast surgery where they have drain bulbs—and it would help them feel comfortable in their healing, but also maybe in a way make them feel beautiful.
I also know this feeling personally because I went through this same surgery, but preventively. So I understood what it was like to come home, not have anything to wear, be uncomfortable with drains coming out from under your arms. And so it was almost like reliving what I had gone through all while helping my mom, but thinking through all of these other women that I know and love and have lost, that have walked the same path.
And so I designed this shirt on a sticky note and called my husband. And I said, “I believe I know what I’m supposed to do with the rest of my life.” I just began to call people. I began to pray over this sticky note. And these phone calls with lawyers and people that knew how to sew and just all of the different connections I had known in my life, I decided, “I might as well share now, because this is burning in me like I need to do this thing.” I made a different connection every day, met someone new, taught myself so many things by just getting onto the Internet and typing in questions about manufacturing, about fabric.
In a lot of this, this is not a, “Man, I drew this sticky note, and this amazing thing was created.” There were a lot of samples and there was a lot of learning and growing and changing and mistakes, but a lot of God working.
“In a lot of this, this is not a, ‘Man, I drew this sticky note, and this amazing thing was created.’ There were a lot of samples and there was a lot of learning and growing and changing and mistakes, but a lot of God working.” – Nikki Speer
A Mother Who Loved Jesus
My mother always loved Jesus as long as I can remember. He was always spoken about, but not only was He spoken about, she truly lived it out. I vividly remember my mom always going somewhere, meaning helping at the church, going to a Bible study, bringing someone a meal, driving someone somewhere. If they needed her, she was there. She really loved helping.
The one thing that I think my mom did so well and that showed God’s love so graciously, she always asked about you. When I was growing up, my mom would tell me, “You should always leave a conversation knowing more about the other person than they know about you.” And I accredit that to her walk with God, Her faith life, her time praying and reading the Bible, and learning more about Him.
“When I was growing up, my mom would tell me, ‘You should always leave a conversation knowing more about the other person than they know about you.’” – Nikki Speer
Jesus Calling was definitely a huge part of my mom’s life. She read it every day when she learned about it in 2004, or even in 2005. And so it was a part of her life. And she bought my children Jesus Calling for Kids, which is so beautiful. And we actually still read it, even though I have two almost teenagers and an eighteen-year-old, it’s so simple and amazing. And my mom knew those words would speak to my children even now.
And so, yes, my mom read Jesus Calling every day. And quite frankly, my dad is seventy-eight years old and he sends me a Jesus Calling passage every morning. He takes a picture of this little calendar my mom had bought him. It’s like a flip kind of calendar of all of the messages, and he sends one to me every morning. And it’s so beautiful.
Jesus Calling, November 2nd.
Grow strong in the Light of My Presence. Your weakness does not repel Me. On the contrary, it attracts My Power, which is always available to flow into a yielded heart. Do not condemn yourself for your constant need of help. Instead, come to Me with your gaping neediness; let the Light of My Love fill you.
A yielded heart does not whine or rebel when the going gets rough. It musters the courage to thank Me even during hard times. Yielding yourself to My will is ultimately an act of trust. In quietness and trust is your strength.
This passage is so encouraging to me because as we spend time with the Lord, we do get stronger. We do grow strong in the light of His presence. And when I am weak and when I need this courage, which is usually every day, I have these What if? moments that well up inside of me. But in quietness and trust truly is my strength. And those What if? moments become my Even if… moments with God.
“I have these What if? moments that well up inside of me. But in quietness and trust truly is my strength. And those What if? moments become my Even if… moments with God.” – Nikki Speer
Honoring a Faithful Mother
About sixty days after I made the promise, my mom would pass away. I did tell her about this shirt and she was so proud. She never got to see this shirt, but I believe now, after grief has somewhat lifted, it’s not as heavy as it once was. I believe that the Lord gave this to me in that moment because He knew what I would need to continue my mom’s legacy and to help hundreds, if not thousands of women feel beautiful and loved and feel hope.
Hope is what we named the shirt, because in our Christian faith, we have a hope. We have a true hope. Our hope is in Jesus. And I believe that these women, in this moment in time of walking through breast cancer, need hope. Now we gift these shirts to women all across the United States for free, and they feel this love and they feel this hope.
Follow God’s Nudge – Then Jump
I really do believe that if you are feeling right now a nudge or a calling or prompting from God, that you should go for it. I have always said that it was in obedience, I found the blessing. I didn’t really wait for anyone to tell me that this was a good idea. I simply prayed, asked for guidance, and jumped.
“I really do believe that if you are feeling right now a nudge or a calling or prompting from God, that you should go for it. I have always said that it was in the obedience I found the blessing.” – Nikki Speer
I think that when you do that, it is actually so beautiful because in the jumping and in the going for it, you learn so much about yourself and you draw closer to Him because it is not easy. I’m not saying jump and it will all be perfect. I’m saying move forward with that nudge and that calling. And in that obedience, you will see Him do things, incredible things. And it not only changes you—this is what I love so much about God. What He asks you to do doesn’t always just change you. It affects so many other people in such a beautiful way. You could have never dreamed it would be that way.
You can write up all the business plans you want, and all the goals in the world, and mine have changed fifty times since I started. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is my faith and dedication to helping others, because He gives that special thing to you that He has put in your heart and placed on your mind. And it is good. It is good, and it will change lives, and it will help others, and ultimately it will bring Him glory. And that’s what this life is about.
Narrator: You can learn more about Nikki’s nonprofit, Redefined Courage, and about her beautiful Hope shirts at redefinedcourage.com.
If you’d like to hear more stories about love in action, check out our interview with radio show host Delilah.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Michael and Zina Goodin. Since 2012, Michael and Zina have been running a nonprofit called the Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary. And over the years, they’ve watched as people have adopted these loyal companions, and what they can teach us about love.
Michael Goodin: One of the greatest things about older dogs, especially when they have been in the shelters, when we bring them out of that shelter, they don’t even remember the past. They just live in the day and they get so happy. They come from all different backgrounds, and we have dogs that live in group areas and they just bond very, very quickly, which I always find amazing.
Narrator: Want to hear more inspirational stories of people who have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then subscribe today to the Jesus Calling Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And please be sure to leave a review, which helps us reach and inspire others with these stories. Plus, if you like seeing our guests as well as hearing them, you can find video interviews available on our Youtube channel at youtube.com/jesuscallingbook, on Facebook, and on the Jesus Calling Instagram page.