Can I Practice Peace When the Storm Rages? With Morgan Harper Nichols [Episode 211]

Practice Peace Storm Rages

Peace is not passive, my friend. Peace is a practice. When you take in all the grace available to you and let go of what is outside of your control, you’ll discover peace regardless of your circumstances. All it takes is practice!

Today, author and artist Morgan Harper Nichols invites you to become a peacemaker in your own life, starting right where you are. It’s time to let go of regret over the past, drop that fear of the future, and face life with the calm confidence God intended.

So, let peace like a river begin to flow in your life!

Meet Morgan

Popular Instagram poet and artist, Morgan Harper Nichols, has created her life’s work around the stories of others. Morgan’s Instagram feed has over two million followers, and she’s the author of All Along You Were Blooming, a book of poems and art she created in response to the personal stories submitted by her friends and followers. She also hosts a podcast, The Morgan Harper Nichols Show, where she shares daily reflections on finding meaning and peace in life and work.

Morgan has also performed as a vocalist on several GRAMMY-nominated projects and written for various artists, including a Billboard #1 single performed by her sister, Jamie Grace. Morgan’s iconic Instagram art has inspired millions and landed her brand partnerships with lots of notable brands like Anthropologie, Coach, Target, Starbucks and GAP, just to name a few. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and son.

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Episode Transcript

4:13 Podcast: Can I Practice Peace When the Storm Rages? With Morgan Harper Nichols [Episode 211]

Morgan Harper Nichols: Breathing is something that we are doing every day, and that peace is that freedom to breathe every single day, to practice it over and over. It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to only come when everything is figured out, but it's something that we can return to and practice on a day-to-day basis.

Jennifer Rothschild: Peace is not passive, my friend. Peace is a practice. When you take in all the grace that is available to you and let go of what is outside of your control, you will discover peace that is beyond your circumstances. All it takes is practice. Today, author Morgan Harper Nichols is inviting you to become a peacemaker in your own life, starting right where you are. It's time to release regrets over the past, drop fear of the future, and face life with the calm confidence that God intended. So let peace like a river begin.

K.C. Wright: Welcome to the 4:13 Podcast, where practical encouragement and biblical wisdom set you up to live the "I Can" life, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Now your host, Jennifer Rothschild.

Jennifer Rothschild: Hello, our people. Jennifer here, just to help you be and do more than you feel capable of as you live this "I Can" life of Philippians 4:13. We're so happy you're back with us this week. Hope things are going well and you've had a good week. But if you have not, this is your chance to breathe in some peace. And I am telling you, you're going to be able to tell by the end of this conversation I had with Morgan that I got so amped up over peace, because she makes it super practical. And I just love this woman.

So a lot of you know her because you follow her on Instagram. But she just really gave me a great perspective on peace. And so I don't know what it is in your life that brings you peace, but I think for you to totally enjoy this conversation today, I want you to just take a second, pause the podcast if you need to, and go do that, get that, be there, whatever it is. Like, if chamomile tea --

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- brings you peace --

K.C. Wright: Come on.

Jennifer Rothschild: -- go brew some.

K.C. Wright: Yeah.

Jennifer Rothschild: If taking a walk around the neighborhood with your ear buds brings you peace, let's get started. Put on your shoes.

K.C., what brings you peace?

K.C. Wright: Oh, so many things. I mean, I love -- we have something at our church called Worship Nights. Worship --

Jennifer Rothschild: Worship brings you peace.

K.C. Wright: -- brings me peace.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: I love these Worship Nights. Also sitting in the hot tub. Hello? But the ultimate peace in my life is my toes in white sand in Destin, Florida.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: Hello peace.

Jennifer Rothschild: The beach is definitely a place of peace. But I got to say, menopausal woman here, hot tub is not peaceful. I remember Phil and I went on this vacation. We both get in. I'm in there, like, for two seconds. I'm sweating, I'm like, "I got to get out, I'm having a hot flash." It was not peaceful for the married couple.

Anyway, you know what brings me peace is fragrances.

K.C. Wright: Oh.

Jennifer Rothschild: So I have certain fragrances -- and this is going to show you just kind of my quirkiness. But, like, I have summer fragrances and I have fall fragrances, meaning in candles that I like, in perfumes that I wear. And I like to wear those warmer tones that have, like, the patchouli undertones. I like to smell those. Also the cedar woods, the warm vanillas, all that kind of stuff, that brings me peace. Now, really bright fragrances like a honeysuckle kind of candle or a bright fragrance that I would wear, they do not bring me peace. But the warm fragrances bring me peace.

K.C. Wright: I love that. And you're using words that I have to Google again. I've warned you about this.

You know what also brings me peace?

Jennifer Rothschild: What?

K.C. Wright: I'm serious. This is true. The 4:13 Podcast.

Jennifer Rothschild: Aah.

K.C. Wright: There have been times in my life where things are just a little hectic and crazy and I'll put the 4:13 Podcast on. And just hearing someone talk about the Word and hearing your voice brings me peace. But also -- this is something you don't know about me -- a clean house brings me peace.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. Well, yes. Hello. Me too.

K.C. Wright: I mean, when the bed is made --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: -- and the sheets are clean --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: -- and the office is put in order and you've wiped down everything with a Bleach wipe --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes.

K.C. Wright: -- and the floors are clean and you can eat off of it.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay, we're getting a little too excited over this, because, like, this is where it's true, you are the male version of me.

K.C. Wright: It brings me peace when things are in order.

Jennifer Rothschild: Me too.

K.C. Wright: But then I also like loud and crazy --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes, you do.

K.C. Wright: -- and dogs. But there's something about having that house clean. Oh, and the yard mowed and landscaped, and the weeds pulled and flowers blooming.

Jennifer Rothschild: It's like you're saying everything's right in the world, you know?

K.C. Wright: Yes.

Jennifer Rothschild: And so that's part of the reason this conversation's going to be so fun for you guys, is because the reality is sometimes the lawn is covered with weeds. Sometimes you haven't been able to pull off making the bed in three days. Sometimes your world is a wreck and there's chaos around you. But what Morgan is contending is that you can still have peace because you can learn to practice peace. You can be a peacemaker in your own life. So let's get going. We need to listen to what Morgan Harper Nichols has to say.

K.C. Wright: Popular Instagram poet and artist Morgan Harper Nichols has created her life's work around the stories of others. Morgan's Instagram feed has over 2 million, and she's the author of "All Along You Were Blooming," a book of poems and art she created in response to the personal stories submitted by her friends and followers. She also hosts a podcast called The Morgan Harper Nichols Show, where she shares daily reflections on finding meaning and peace in life and work. Morgan has also performed as a vocalist on several Grammy nominated projects and written for various artists, including a Billboard number one single performed by her sister, Jamie Grace. Morgan's iconic Instagram art has inspired millions and landed her brand partnerships with lots of notable brands like Coach, Target, Starbucks, Gap. That's just to name a few.

Jennifer Rothschild: Isn't that cool? I love that.

K.C. Wright: She lives in Atlanta with her husband and son. And after that introduction, I know you just can't wait to hear from her. So here's Jennifer and Morgan.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right, Morgan. So I just introduced you, and all I can say is wow. You are just a very gifted and obviously influential woman, yet I read also that you lived with undiagnosed autism for most of your life, which is really fascinating and difficult. So I'm very curious how that experience, well, and the eventual diagnosis, informed your understanding of peace.

Morgan Harper Nichols: Yes. Well, thank you, thank you so much for asking that. So I grew up with, thankfully, a very supportive family, but my parents were always very encouraging to both me and my sister, who also has some neurological differences. And I always start with that because I really do think without that, I probably would have been even more confused than I was. But I do believe that at home -- all I knew was that at home -- I feel safer at home than I do oftentimes when I'm out in the world. At home I feel like I'm free to draw, to create, to just take extra time to rest and be quiet. And the second I cross the threshold and out into the rest of the world, I would often feel very overwhelmed. And all the way from elementary school, all the way through college, I struggled with making friends, with keeping friends, with keeping up with tasks and responsibilities, and most of the time I just sort of talked it up to, okay, well, I guess I'm just growing up and eventually I'll just figure out everything that I haven't been able to figure out. But it was very challenging.

And even as I got diagnosed with autism as an adult, a part of that process was looking back at my whole life and just seeing just how much I had struggled with even simple things, from using an oven to taking a shower. So many things that I just struggled with and took me way longer to do than I would see other people doing. But at the same time, me taking longer to do things or understand how a lot of things in the world worked, that taking longer also taught me how to slow down at a very young age. It taught me how to take deep breaths as often as I could over the smallest things, because a lot of things just aren't easy for me. So I have to pace myself. I have to seek peace and practice peace in daily life, you know, not even just to thrive, but to function.

So for me, I really do think that finally having that language where I'm like, oh, this is what you have been struggling with, this is why things have been challenging and difficult to you, having that language just gave me just so much encouragement and it just really helped me to even just see the grace that's been there throughout my life all this time.

Jennifer Rothschild: Wow. Okay, that's a beautiful perspective. Because that is a very difficult -- I mean, when you lay that template over your life, yet you don't understand what it is, that is a very difficult thing you are constantly navigating. But to look at it now through the filter of how in some ways it was a severe mercy that taught you how to practice peace all along.

Morgan Harper Nichols: Absolutely.

Jennifer Rothschild: Because those who may not have neurological challenges still need peace, and we still need to learn how to practice it. If there's something else about your life, Morgan, that I don't know -- because obviously this is a podcast, our listeners can't see you. So I want to ask you a very personal question about peace. Because you're an African American woman. Our listeners may not know that, so now they do. So here's what I really want to know. I need your perspective on this. I'm very curious. As an African American or black woman, I am curious how you deal with and make peace with the past in America and how you keep pursuing peace. Like today, when we still have so many issues with racial tension and divide, it's very heartbreaking to me -- I happen to be a white woman -- so I really want your perspective on this.

Morgan Harper Nichols: Yes, absolutely. I think that one of the greatest gifts that I can see just from my own personal history and everything that I've learned from my family and how a lot of my family members came to America was through the slave trade. And what I feel like I've learned from that and what that has shown me, it's shown me an awareness of how multiple things can happen at once and how there has been suffering and equally there has been joy, equally there has been a community that is strong and you learn how to look out for one another in challenging times.

So in many ways, you consider a lot of the things that's even happened over the past few years. For me, I could see -- I'm like, oh, you know what? While this may feel new, it's actually -- you know, it's like this headline is new, but the way that we can respond and continue to fight for justice, and also look out for one another, and also not just talk about the suffering, but also the joy as well, that goes way back, you know. I'm like, that goes so many generations. And in that way, I find a lot of peace in being a part of that lineage.

I remember -- it was a few years ago -- just because another thing of being a descendant of slaves is that you can't really trace your ancestry very much. So I think past my grandparents -- I mean, my grandparents' generation, a lot of them weren't even allowed to have birth certificates. So you're talking about, like, it's almost impossible to go back and find out who your family is. And I ended up finding -- learning about my great great grandfather, who was born a slave and died free. And I remember in that moment having to hold both the grief and the joy in that, you know, of, like, wow, I'm so close to someone who was born a slave -- like, that was just, like, not that long ago -- and at the same time he died free. And in that short period of time, look at where I am. And when I found that out, I was literally in Georgia, where I grew up, where I have a lot of family. So it's always a constant mix of feelings. And that's life. And that's life.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah. Yeah.

Morgan Harper Nichols: So I'm just so grateful to have had that experience to be so deeply a part of my story. As challenging as it also is, it's like wow. It has also equipped me with empathy, compassion for others, and for seeking peace not only for myself, but for others as well.

Jennifer Rothschild: You know, Morgan, again I hear the same -- different context, different answer, but I hear the same thing. There is really something very powerful in your words, because what I hear is you're saying peace isn't just this thing that happens because everything's good and there's no conflict or we can figure out a way to erase the past. You're saying peace is a choice we make. And I hear such a determined -- what do I hear? It's like a determined optimism within your perspective. And I see how that can really merge so beautifully with allowing a person to have peace.

So you've written this book on practicing peace. And so in your book you write that peace is a cycle, which I love that. It's like breathing, you know, breathing in, breathing out, inhale, exhale. So talk to us about that.

Morgan Harper Nichols: Yes. So I have been sitting with this word peace for a very long time. And it started when I was a kid hearing the song "It Is Well With My Soul," when -- the first line of that song says, "When peace like a river attendeth my way." So that was actually my first kind of -- just my sort of artistic way that I tend to do things, I just associated peace with a river as a young child, and I just kept finding those connections. And eventually what that led me to see is -- you know, especially with the story of the song "It Is Well With My Soul" -- which for those who may not be familiar, it was written by a man, Horatio Spafford, who had actually lost his four daughters to sea. And he was writing that song, going to go meet his wife, who was also grieving because they just lost their four children. And when I think about how someone who is experiencing -- I've never experienced that. Like, I've never experienced that kind of grief. And that's the kind of grief you don't want anybody to experience. And when you think about someone in that place, peace like a river, I was like, what is that? That's not a coincidence that peace is that thing that this person is finding in this place. I was like, peace is freedom to breathe amidst the struggle. It's finding that room to breathe in the struggle, just like a river. A river is this breathing, flowing life force that's in the wilderness. You have to kind of go through some trenches to find it.

So I started to just really just sit and reflect and pray and journal about this peace that is so much bigger than just, like, a dictionary definition, but this beautiful life force that just reminds us on a day-to-day basis that we are free to breathe no matter what's going on. And breathing happens in cycles.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, yeah.

Morgan Harper Nichols: Inhale, exhale, that's a cycle over and over. I'm like, breathing is something that we are doing every day, and that peace is that freedom to breathe every single day, to practice it over and over. It doesn't have to be perfect, it doesn't have to only come when everything is figured out, but it's something that we can return to and practice on a day-to-day basis. So, yeah, I started talking about that -- I write about that a lot and I talk about that very early on in my book "Peace is a Practice," because I really wanted to write about peace in a way that it felt tangible and real and not just like this intellectual thing, but it's like this is something we can encounter and practice every day.

Jennifer Rothschild: I love that you do that because you're right, peace is one of those subjects that feels like it's a very out there, you know, ethereal kind of thing. But you're saying, no, it's an everyday, as close as your breath kind of thing.

And as you mention that hymn, it's one of my favorites, "It Is Well With My Soul." That second line says, "When sorrows like sea billows roll." But then it goes on, "Whatever my lot" -- and then he's talking to God -- "Thou hast taught me to say it is well with my soul." So it's like there is that element of the practice of peace, the learning of it, the becoming a practitioner of it. And your book helps us do that.

So in your book, you share several ways that we can incorporate peace into our daily lives. So I'm curious for you, which is the one that you most rely on?

Morgan Harper Nichols: Oh, yes. So one of my -- this is the one that I feel like I've put in the book that I was like, you know what, this might be a weird Morgan nerdy thing, but I'm just going to put it there because I was like, it's helped me so much. And I just -- I'm like, if one person out there -- and that's why I always share it. I'm like, you don't have to read the book. Like, I'm just like, if this just helps with one person, I -- it's helped me so much.

So a huge thing, a lot of the practices in the book are kind of centered around, you know, why it's -- what makes it hard to find peace in daily life. And one of those things I found in my life is just the concept of community and just feeling like you have your people who you know you can go to and get together with and vent with or have dinner with, celebrate with, breathe with, all those things. And a lot of us, especially over these past few years, have just really had our idea of community just get really shaken up. And maybe the people you used to see every day, people have moved to other states or you're no longer in the same physical communities like you used to be or -- it's just changed for so many people.

So one thing that I've been doing -- I've been doing it for a while, but I really, really started doing it more and more over these past couple of years -- is what I like to call keeping a personal bibliography. Now, if you read a nonfiction book, a lot of times in the back of the book you're going to see a bibliography. You're going to see where the author has referenced different people that -- different, you know, books that kind of informed what they're writing about.

And one day I was looking at a bibliography in a book and I was like -- I often see these writers referencing each other, and I was like, they're kind of like a community. And I was like, isn't it a community of people who are kind of speaking and writing about the same thing? I was like, isn't it interesting how, you know, when you think about social media, you think about all this pressure to, like, have -- stay connected with everybody and everything. Like, isn't it interesting how community often -- it doesn't just have to be that. It can also just be here is a group of people who we're encouraging each other, we're on the same page, we are interested in the same things or -- you know, even if we don't agree on everything, it's like we have something here. I was like, how cool would it be if I created a journal that was just writing a note of every person that I've met in my life, that I can remember, that has in some way impacted me and been a part of my community. Even if they were just there for a couple of days or a few minutes, or it was someone that -- a book that I read, I never even met the person. That too is my community.

And I started keeping this journal that is really thick. And I recommend other people try it as well. Like, get the thickest notebook you can find and start taking notes, writing down all the people, all of the moments that you've had with people where you felt seen, loved, heard. And even if you don't get to see those people every day, they are still a part of your larger community and they're still a part -- you're a part of each other's story.

So, yeah, one of the ones that I -- my favorite -- and I'll end on this. One of my favorite ones that really -- that I spend a lot of time just reflecting on -- and I put it in my personal bibliography -- was a girl that I met my freshman year of college. I was feeling really lonely, just out of my comfort zone, not making a lot of friends, and I met this girl because she had on a cool shirt. And I compliment the shirt, and she's like, "Oh, thank you. It's actually my favorite band." And I was like, "Oh, that's so cool." Well, later that day she stopped by my room, my dorm room, and she gave me a mixtape of that band and some other bands that she liked. And she was like, "I thought you might like this," you know, "it's that band and some other bands." So I took it and I listened to it, and I did -- from that CD, I ended up finding some of my favorite artists that ended up inspiring my music, my poetry years and years later. And I never saw that girl again. I don't know if she transferred another semester -- you know, to another school the next semester. We were a very small campus, but I never saw her again. I never saw her again. And I'm like, she's a part of my community. She is a part of who I am and how I got here today.

So, yeah, that's one of my favorite ones I just love to share with people. If it just happens to help someone find peace about their community right now, it's just something I recommend trying.

Jennifer Rothschild: Okay. I got to tell you, that is one of the most brilliant ideas I have ever heard. I happen to be a super geek and so I read bibliographies. I love this idea more than you can even imagine. I am so going to start this. And what's interesting is you do something like that, Morgan, that exercise, it does bring you peace. It might help you make peace with your past. It might renew your perspective to help you recognize, oh, wait a minute. You know, I felt all this angst this morning, but now that I just did this exercise, I realized, wow, God, you've been so good to me. And it does. I can see how that would bring such a sense of peace. I'm doing it, girl. I am so doing this. And you know what? I'm putting you in my personal bibliography.

Morgan Harper Nichols: Oh, wow.

Jennifer Rothschild: You've inspired me today. You really have.

All right, let's keep going. Peace. Okay, so here's a question I have thought about as we have had this conversation. Do you think that we ever really arrive at peace and stay there? Like, is it a one and done thing, in your opinion?

Morgan Harper Nichols: That's such a good question. The short answer is -- I would say peace is always there, we just don't always see it. So I think it's very much so that -- you know, peace for me, I believe peace is beyond understanding. And it's there, but in the busyness of life, because our human minds are very creative and can come up with all kinds of scenarios, everything that can go wrong within the next five minutes or five years, it makes it harder to see. But it's always there. It's always there. So it's just a matter of getting back to it over and over and over and over again. And no matter how far away you've been from it, there is still grace to come back into that peace again and again and again.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I happen to be a believer in Christ. And I know many of our listeners, most of them probably are. Jesus calls himself the Prince of Peace. And so I'm so thankful that we have that model of what his life is for us to draw from, and his life in us and with us and beside us and behind us and beneath us can support and give peace.

So this will be our last question then, Morgan. And it's kind of -- I know it's a little more abstract. Maybe you can make it a little bit concrete. So what's the one thing you would tell our listeners, as they're feeling as inspired as I am, what can they do to find peace and then to practice it, no matter what's happening in the bigger world that we deal with and in our own private worlds?

Morgan Harper Nichols: Yes, I would say spend at least 60 seconds -- I'm not even going to say five minutes. Like, just 60 seconds reflecting, looking for what brings you life today, what brings you life. And what's so beautiful about that is that it's not just like this one and done thing, it's -- that is a window into seeing how you can find that room to breathe every day. And I think that's so important. It's something I've really learned since my -- especially since my autism diagnosis, is that we're not all going to find that room to breathe the same way. For some people it's a nap. Some people are like, I haven't taken a nap in 40 years, so that might not be the thing that brings you life today. For some it might be calling up an old friend or an elder in your life. Just think about it for 60 seconds. What is that thing? Where can I go? How can I use what I have where I'm at to find that room to breathe today?

K.C. Wright: Jennifer, I need you to know -- you probably already do -- that you are in my personal bibliography.

Jennifer Rothschild: Well, I gotta say right back at you, you are in mine too for sure.

I just loved -- clearly, if you just listened to that conversation, you know that I loved that concept so much. We all need to do this. We need to compile our own personal bibliographies. Because when you have a personal bibliography that you can refer to, it will ground you and it will bring you peace.

K.C. Wright: And don't forget what she said also, take 60 seconds -- spend 60 seconds looking for what brings you life today. Right?

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, that's good.

K.C. Wright: Jesus said, "I have come that you may have life, and life more abundantly, living life to the full." This was some good stuff today. It was so practical, once again. So grab her book to help you get on this path to peace. We'll have a link at the show notes right now just for you at

All right, our peoples, we love you, and we mean it, and don't want you to ever forget that whatever you face and however you feel, you can practice peace because you can do all things through Christ who gives you peace, because -- breaking news -- Jesus is the Prince of Peace --

Jennifer Rothschild: Yes, he is.

K.C. Wright: -- and he belongs to you. I know I can.

Jennifer Rothschild: Yeah, I can. And you can.

K.C. Wright: You really can.

Jennifer Rothschild: All right. So I have spent so much time thinking through my personal bibliography, and I just got to tell you a couple of people that came to mind immediately.

K.C. Wright: Okay.

Jennifer Rothschild: Joni Eareckson Tada.

K.C. Wright: I love Joni.

Jennifer Rothschild: She is definitely on my personal bibliography because she has inspired me so much.

There's a lady right now in our church who's fighting cancer, and she's so steady. She's in my personal bibliography. Her name is Beverly. I mean, there's just so many people out there, so it's just a really great practice.

K.C. Wright: Love it.


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