Morgan Harper Nichols: Over and over, I found in my life that when I sort of surrender my plan while simultaneously staying faithful to wherever I am, that’s when things start to really flourish in unexpected and beautiful ways.
Give Your Dreams to God: Morgan Harper Nichols & Kel Mitchell – Episode #205
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Surrendering our plans and aspirations to try to follow God’s map for our life can seem challenging. Our guests this week give us some first-hand experience on the joys they experienced when they handed their dreams over to God; artist and writer Morgan Harper Nichols and actor/producer Kel Mitchell.
First up, Morgan Harper Nichols is a woman with numerous creative outlets: singing, writing, and creating inspirational pieces of art that have gone viral. Morgan reflects on the mountains and valleys that brought her to where she is now, including the start of the project that has impacted her life more than she ever imagined: sharing the stories of strangers through visual art. Morgan dives into how connection happens through imperfections, and that she felt God calling her to go deeper and to engage in something bigger than herself.
Morgan Harper Nichols: My name is Morgan Harper Nichols. I am an artist and a writer. I live in Southern California. I am really inspired by people’s stories, and I write and I share a lot of art and I enjoy connecting with people.
Discovering A Place To Belong
I was a preacher’s kid at a pretty small church, and I saw my parents from the very beginning—they were just very hands-on and present with people. And growing up, I saw a lot of my parents just setting the table for people, literally, and just inviting people to our house, our home, whether they went to the church or not. And very early on, the concept of faith and who Jesus is was very intertwined with daily life and service and giving to others. I was so passionate about listening and serving others and connecting with other people. But at the same time, I felt like I didn’t really know where my place was in the kingdom as an introvert. And it was just very challenging for me.
So I feel like a lot of what I wrote—even as a kid and the pictures that I would draw, and I taught myself how to play instruments and the songs that I write—was just sort of trying to get those questions out. You know, what does it mean to serve and to love and to give to others while also simultaneously feeling like you’re not enough? And as it turns out, a lot of other people live with those kinds of questions.
“What does it mean to serve and to love and to give to others while also simultaneously feeling like you’re not enough?” – Morgan Harper Nichols
Finding A Voice Through Art & Music
What I loved about music was—as I became a teenager and started to kind of find my own music that I like listening to, I just loved this idea that in a world where I often felt so different from everyone else, I just felt seen and heard in music. And during that time, my grandfather had actually started just acquiring random instruments from garage sales, and we went over to my grandparents’ house and he had a guitar and handed it to me. And then the moment that he handed it to me, [I heard] a voice that I feel to this moment, to this day, was the most audible I’ve ever heard the voice of God. And the second I played that guitar, I heard, “You are going to use this.” And from that moment forward, I was like, I don’t know for what. I don’t know what it’s going to be because I certainly don’t feel like I’m cool enough or interesting enough to be a musician or be an artist. But there’s something to this.
So from age fourteen and into college and even to my twenties, I spent a lot of time doing a lot of random things in the music world, everything from [playing in] coffee shops to playing in church to trying to have a YouTube channel, doing cover songs, everything. And it taught me a lot, because I love to share and I love to connect with people.
So I started in college as a music major, because I was like, Well, I play guitar, I sing, I write songs, I guess I should major in music and quickly discovered this was well out of my league. And it was the one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, especially in that season of my life. The class that I’d done the best in, that I performed the best in, was actually English 101. And in that class, we had to write a poem, and I just kind of mindlessly wrote this poem, and the professor pulled me over to the side and he said, “Hey, Morgan, I don’t know your background. I don’t know anything about you. But just reading this poem, you’re a writer, and you need to do more of that.” So from that moment forward, I was like, I don’t know how, but I want to do something that involves writing. I want to do something that involves connecting with people through words.
A New Beginning, A Purpose Revealed
I was just kind of freelancing here and there, trying a lot of different things, and I was just like, I don’t think this is it. I think I’m wasting my time. I think I’ve let my parents down. I’ve let people down. I’m not focusing. I’m not being consistent and I’m not where I want to be. So we ended up in this place where I was just really kind of of confused and and and just feeling—I guess it was my quarter life crisis. It was just this moment of like, What am I doing with my life?
And the response to that came out as this poem, and the poem starts with, “When you start to feel like things should have been better this year, remember the mountains and valleys that brought you here.” And as I read those words back to myself, I was like, You know, I am not sure I believe that. I’m not sure that that’s something that I believe. But I feel like for some reason, God had me write that down. And I don’t know what it’s going to reveal later, but as of right now, I’ll just let it be. And I ended up sharing it on Pinterest, and then in January of 2017, I started getting messages from people saying that they found this poem and it spoke to them.
The thing that really broke me open was when I started to really read the messages that I was receiving about this poem, and many of them were from young women, teenagers who were eight, ten years younger than me, saying things like, “You have no idea how much I needed these words. Thank you for writing this. Here’s what I’ve been through. Here’s my story and this is what it means to me.” And that just honestly, it just brought me right back to the ground. And it just made me realize, Oh my goodness, all this time I’ve been searching and searching and trying to find my thing. But all along, [my purpose] was just about how I can be present to other people with what I have, with what I’ve been given, even though I don’t feel good enough.
So later in 2017, October 2017, that’s when I actually figured it out, and I was like, I know what I’ll do. I will literally just write for people who share their stories with me. And I thought that maybe I would do it for a few weeks, but here we are three years later, and I was just doing it this morning. It has become such a core part of our own daily practice of being present with other people and letting that be the inspiration for my work.
“But all along, [my purpose] was just about how I can be present to other people with what I have, with what I’ve been given, even though I don’t feel good enough.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
Applying Faith to Everyday Life
I came to this place where I was in my devotional time with God in the morning, and having my Jesus time, and I was praying and I was writing. And at the same time, I really started to pray about that, and I heard God tell me, “I need you to go deeper. I need you to go deeper beyond the scriptures that you’ve memorized. And I need you to show those scriptures in real life. I need you to live them out,” because I was in a space where I’m a preacher’s kid. I can quote scripture in my sleep and I can tell you so many things. I went to a Christian college. I have a minor in biblical studies. And at the same time, it was such a mind thing, because it was just like, I can just quote that scripture. I can just do that. So I was like, I think I need to dig deeper into what grace is. I use that word all the time. I can tell you ten scriptures about grace. But what grace looks like in this very moment—I think one of the biggest things for me that God is teaching me right now is just getting constantly going deeper and getting out of my comfort zone with the way that I feel comfortable with sharing my faith journey.
I feel really comfortable with words. I feel really comfortable with weaving words together. But even with my art, even as I am writing words, how can I show more of what I believe? How can I show love more than just talking about it? So, yeah, those are just questions I’m living with, learning how to go deeper and deeper into faith by going beyond the realm of where I feel comfortable and and seeing what God wants to show me there.
And what I love about Jesus Calling is just how it has become, for many people, a daily reminder of just how close we are to the divine, how close we are to Jesus. And in a time where it can seem—I don’t know if any other people have felt this way, but I felt this way in my life many times—like, Wow, I’m not as good as Jesus, not as loving as Jesus. What do my efforts even mean? And I feel like with what Sarah has created, it’s just such a reminder that that perfect love is still calling you. We’re still being called to go deeper. We’re still being called to come out on the water and to not be afraid of engaging with what’s bigger than us. It’s hard to accept that call, but it’s so important.
“We’re still being called to go deeper. We’re still being called to come out on the water and to not be afraid of engaging with what’s bigger than us.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
There have been so many moments where someone has said, “This is exactly what I needed today. Thank you for saying this.” And I sit there and I look at her. I’m like, “I’m not the first person to say that. I’m not the first person to letter the word surrender or release or exhale. It’s everywhere. But what it shows me is that we all have the ability to show up for other people, even with just the smallest things, even just the smallest gestures.
One single word can really, really impact someone in a way that matters in their life, whether they tell you or not. Connection happens through the imperfections and it happens through the broken places. When we’re like, “Okay, there’s this brokenness, there’s this openness, but this is where the light gets in. This is where love gets in.”
“One single word can really, really impact someone in a way that matters in their life, whether they tell you or not. Connection happens through the imperfections and it happens through the broken places.” – Morgan Harper Nichols
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Narrator: Kel Mitchell found life in the spotlight as a teen actor on the Nickelodeon channel in shows like All That and Kenan and Kel. Although he had strong roots in faith, Kel found he was on the shaky ground his first few years in Hollywood as he tried to figure out who he was apart from the characters he played on TV. Ultimately, Kel found when he let God direct the way, his steps were more sure, and today, Kel’s working to inspire kids and help them know they are loved for who they are, regardless of what they do.
Kel Mitchell: My name is Kel Mitchell, and I am an actor, producer, writer. I’m also a father, a husband, and now a ballroom dancer. And I’m also a youth pastor as well.
So both my grandparents were definitely believers, and I just think it really helped me growing up and having faith, because as a kid, [I] believed I could do anything. And it’s true. You can do all things through Christ. So I think that was the opening up for me at a young age. So being that my grandfather was a pastor, I would always see him praying and seeing how his faith worked, and he and my grandmother used to pick up the phone all the time. It didn’t matter who called. She would always say, “May God bless you.” He would say hello. Like, as soon as you called, she would go, “Oh, may God bless you.” And it would put you in a feeling of peace, in a joy that Jesus gives us immediately, no matter what you were feeling when you made that phone call. She goes, “Hey, may God bless you.”
Letting God Direct Your Path
So growing up, [during] my early years and career in television, I started off on the south side of Chicago doing theater, because my parents saw that I really enjoyed entertainment. And so for me, it was a hobby, you know, as far as being in theater. But then I got an agent, and I started going on many different auditions, and I got on All That, and All That just really changed my life. You know, it started off as it was going to just be special, and the network was going to see what would happen with it, but then it literally blew up and became one of the most popular shows on Nickelodeon.
Now, for me, growing up, I was fourteen years old when it started. So I was on my way to being an adult but was still as a teenager figuring out everything and figuring all these things out while being on television. And it was just moving at a really fast, really fast pace, and so I thank God for my family being there around me.
I was going through it, it was a dream come true, because it was like, Wow, I’m on television. People are enjoying me on television. But at the same time, trying to navigate being a teen as well. And I feel like those terrible mistakes that are made, even when you’re a teenager, young adult, there are mistakes that you will make and you bump your head a little bit trying to figure out what you’re going to do in your life, what’s your future going to be. And working in the entertainment business, it’s important to have a good sense of self, because what happens is that you start to believe the character. And then when the show stops, then it’s kind of like, Oh, no. Well, what am I gonna go and do now? And so for me, it was really navigating that and finding out who I am and what my real purpose is outside of just television. Not my character. I’m Kel. And what I do is work. And when you’re a kid, you kind of mix that up a little bit, but you have to find the fine line within that.
There was a part of my life where it was like I was trying to direct my own path, right? So I was the one that was doing all the steering and I wasn’t really listening to God. And so when I was doing that and I decided to say, “Hey, I’ll figure this out on my own. I’ll figure this out.” And when I did that, it put me on the wrong path a lot of times. And I was getting into a lot of crazy things that I shouldn’t have gotten involved in. And when it was at the point where I felt like, Okay, Kel, now you need to turn to God and you need to put Him in every aspect of your life, your entire lifestyle, because we have to make it part of our lifestyle. He’s just not only on Sunday, He needs to be in everything, every part of your life. And so when I started to do that, I have gotten [Him in] every part of my life. I’m speaking with Him every morning, having devotionals, commanding my morning, praying over my family, praying over myself and, you know, letting Him direct my path.
“I decided to say, ‘Hey, I’ll figure this out on my own. I’ll figure this out.’ And when I did that, it put me on the wrong path a lot of times.” – Kel Mitchell
Jesus Calling, I got the devotional book, which I thought was awesome. I love devotionals. And I love getting up in the morning and spending time with God and just spending time with Him and listening to Him. And for me, it’s very important to do that. And I felt that comfort and security of You know what? Yeah, there are troubles in life that I’ll go through. But I know that God is with me in those troubles. Because, you know, as Christians, there are troubles you’re going to go through because we live in a sinful world. But at that same time, you have to know that God knows the way of getting you out of trouble. He’ll know how to comfort you when that time is going on. And if there’s anything that you’re dreaming of or a blessing that you want to happen or change, He will show you how to do that. [He will give[ wisdom in speaking to you in that time of meditation with Him. So it’s very important to not get so busy, you know what I mean? Too busy to the point where, Hey, it’s all about me. Make sure that you make it all about Christ, and then that way all the doors are open. It took me time to figure that out, but thank God that I did.
“As Christians, there are troubles you’re going to go through, because we live in a sinful world. But at that same time, you have to know that God knows the way of getting you out of trouble.” – Kel Mitchell
Helping Kids Avoid Our Past Mistakes
I definitely have a lot of work and things that I’m doing in my life. All That was a big part of my career and really jump-started all the other career moves that I made in my life. And it was funny, because of the many movies and TV shows and other ventures that I do, people always still love All That. It’s like they grew up with it.
And so the fans want All That to come back in a major, major way, and Kenan and I are producing it with amazing executive producers that produced us when we were young. So it’s cool to be producing with them and then seeing this new cast of kids that have the same dreams we had. You can see the sparkle in their eyes and the love that they have for the art just the same way we did when we were kids. We were doing it in the nineties and they’re just doing an amazing job on the show. I love speaking to the new cast members as well as their parents because I experienced it, so I love giving advice from a career standpoint and from a spiritual standpoint, too.
Being a youth pastor is awesome. I do get to share my stories with the kids and share my stories of faith and how God brought me through. And it’s important to me because even growing up in this business and before I even got on television, I saw a lot happening to our youth. You know, our youth were dealing with a lot as far as gang violence and suicide and mental health and just all these things. And these things are still going on today for our youth. It’s going on. And they need to be covered. They need to have that hedge of protection.
And so for me, it’s very important to preach and tell those stories. And it’s funny, because for years, I knew I wanted to do this, so I would do motivational speaking. I worked in my church. I would help my pastor out. I even was a stage manager at the church, even while I was doing entertainment business stuff. I was also making sure that I was in ministry at my church constantly. But then what happened is that in my time of meditation, God was like, “I want you to really preach the word. And I’ve been talking to you about this for a long time.”
And I kind of ran away from it, because I was like, “Well, you know, I’m an actor. I’m a producer. How am I going to do that and this at the same time?” And He’s like, “You can do it.” And I spoke to my wife about it, and I was like, “I need to find someone else who’s doing this.” I [needed to] find someone on television [who was] also being a youth pastor. And I couldn’t find anybody to talk to about it, except just the Lord to help me get to do it. And so then my wife said, “You know, what’s wrong with being the first? Be the first to do it. It’s okay. You’ll be the first.” I said, “You know what? You’re right.”
No matter whether you’re in the same business, or whatever type of business you are in, it’s awesome to be an ambassador of Christ and lead them to the Lord as they see the light within you. And that’s the thing that I love to do. And like I said, it’s not about me. It’s all about Him and saving the souls. And I love it when kids give their life to Christ and teens give their life to Christ, or they come up to me and say that the prayers that we’re doing in class and things that we pray for, “Thank you. Breakthroughs.” And that’s awesome. That’s awesome. I love those moments.
“It’s awesome to be an ambassador of Christ and lead [kids] to the Lord as they see the light within you.” – Kel Mitchell
This is from Jesus Calling, April 10th.
TRUST ME IN EVERY DETAIL of your life. Nothing is random in My kingdom. Everything that happens fits into a pattern for good, to those who love Me. Instead of trying to analyze the intricacies of the pattern, focus your energy on trusting Me and thanking Me at all times. Nothing is wasted when you walk close to Me. Even your mistakes and sins can be recycled into something good through My transforming grace. While you were still living in darkness, I began to shine the Light of My Presence into your sin-stained life. Finally, I lifted you up out of the mire and into My marvelous Light. Having sacrificed My very Life for you, I can be trusted in every facet of your life.
When you’re going through things, and if you’ve made a mistake and you’re looking away, God is still with you. I always encourage people to look at it as if there was a mistake or there was a setback, look at it as a teachable moment. It’s a teachable moment. So at that time when those things happen, you need to talk to the Lord and say, “Lord, what are you teaching me at this moment?” And so then that way, it is a learning experience. Don’t be upset about it. Don’t dwell on the past and say, “Hey man, I should have been here. I should have been upset and done it this way.” No. Look at it like, Okay, what did I learn from this? And how can I be better now? Now, knowing this information, for me, everything that I went through in life, there’s nothing that I would want to change because it’s made me the man that I am today. And I feel like you have to learn and you have to go through those setbacks so you can have an amazing and beautiful, divine comeback.
“I feel like you have to learn and you have to go through those setbacks so you can have an amazing and beautiful, divine comeback.” – Kel Mitchell
Narrator: Follow Kel on social media to get the latest news on his current projects.
If you’d like to hear more stories about people who gave their dreams to God, check out our interviews with Matthew Barnett and Richard Cowdrey.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we talk with pastor and former NFL player Dr. Derwin Gray. After a tough childhood left him feeling abandoned and unnoticed, Derwin tried to find worth in his status as a professional athlete. But once he achieved his dreams, Derwin found that the identity and purpose he worked hard to find, weren’t there.
Dr. Derwin Gray: It was at the peak of my football career where I found Jesus, because I climbed a mountain, only to find that the things that I was looking for weren’t there. My identity could not be just a football player because I wasn’t going to be that my whole life. And I needed a purpose beyond simply being good at football and making money, so Jesus gave me those things. He gave me unconditional love. He gave me a new identity, beloved child of God. He gave me a new purpose.
Narrator: Do you love hearing these stories of faith weekly from people like you whose lives have been changed by a closer walk with God? Then be sure to subscribe to the Jesus Calling: Stories of Faith Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review so that we can reach others with these inspirational stories. And, you can also see these interviews on video as part of our original web series with a new interview premiering every other Sunday on Facebook Live. Find previously broadcasted interviews on our Youtube channel, on IGTV, or on jesuscalling.com/video.