Notebook > Lifestyle
Rachel Norris
Rebecca Gault
Rachel Norris

The potter’s broken pieces

Lifestyle | Through lumps of clay, Rachel Norris testifies to God's grace and mercy

Issue: "2012 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 15, 2012

Rachel Norris works with clay. Her potter’s house sits on Texas acreage that has been in her family for generations. The shards of failure lie on the ground off the back porch. Her story of redemption works itself out on the wheel. 

Born to missionary parents in Hong Kong, Norris first came to the United States in 1979: Her parents sent her to their home state of Texas for college, but the Fort Worth culture struck her senses as exotic and sent her reeling off her Christian foundation. 

Norris waitressed downtown, near the stockyards. She met a young man and became pregnant. She knew how women in Hong Kong took care of these matters, but what did they do in this foreign land? “Oh, that’s easy. All you need is $200,” said a waitress accomplice who drove her to the Planned Parenthood clinic. 

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Norris began art classes at the University of North Texas (UNT). Her gift grew and professors took notice of this talented, young girl. Another young man—handsome, charming, theatrical—professed undying love. His charisma attracted her but she repeatedly turned down his marriage proposals. The rebuffs sent him into a rage. She married him, and they moved to upstate New York. 

Soon oppression eclipsed the honeymoon. Norris shrunk under the weight of physical, mental, and emotional abuse. She smoked marijuana daily and refused to bathe, eat, or get out of bed. “God if You’re real ...” was her weak prayer. Billy Graham’s Peace With God sat on her bookshelf, given to her but never read. Now she read it, and the abundant Scripture within made Norris recall her childhood memory drills. She began to read her Bible and pull strength from God’s promises.

Norris pleaded with her husband to seek counseling with her, to go to church, to turn to God. He refused. In desperation she called her UNT art professor, who recommended her for a pottery job in Sedona, Ariz. She fled the tiny trailer house that had been her prison, and flourished in Sedona’s creative climate. The God of her youth slowly reclaimed her heart and mind. 

In the desert, she studied the Bible and knew her problem was simple. It was sin. But understanding sin in relationship transformed her life. She read in chapter 59 of Isaiah that sin separated her from God, but she also read in Paul’s second letter to Timothy that she could be cleansed, redeemed, and set apart for useful purpose: If she laid down the shame that burdened her, Jesus would pick it up and carry it. 

Norris’ parents retired from the mission field after 32 years and returned to the family homestead in Bryan, Texas. Her mother, overwhelmed from years of battling depression, suffered a nervous breakdown. At the same time, Norris accepted a job near Bryan that ended abruptly. Divorced and unemployed, she moved into her parents’ home. There she began to explore the prophets’ word picture of God as the Potter and His people as clay. She reflected on her own life: How God formed her as clay, and how it was His prerogative to smash and reform her, creating a useful vessel.

At her wheel, she formed a pitcher, smashed it and re-wedged the lump. She centered the new lump on the potter’s wheel and formed a new vessel, observing that centering the clay is as much about knowing when to apply pressure as it is knowing when to release. Even lumps go to church, thought Norris. After drying came the fire. This changed the clay’s character. The fire made it strong and fit for use. As creator-potter, Norris monitored her creation’s time in the flame closely, careful not to remove the red, glowing vessel too soon. She chose this clay to become an ornamental fruit bowl and dug her design tools into its flesh. God chose her to display the fruits of the Spirit as a potter. 

These principles became the basis for her first public testimony, coached by her brother-in-law. Word spread. Local churches and women’s groups called her to speak frequently. Resolved to gulp down her fear of public speaking, she readied herself to bring God glory through her life.

Today, Norris is remarried with two children and owns Joy Pottery, where she creates functional and decorative clay products. She travels with her wheel, giving personal testimony of brokenness and redemption. “Don’t rest in a place of potential and comfort,” she tells her audiences. The broken pieces off her back porch are memorials of God’s grace. 

—Rebecca Gault is a Texas writer

Natural selections

Advertising Age reported recently on America’s changing food preferences. In 1977 a typical grocery store carried 10,425 products. Today the typical store carries 38,000—and still has difficulty appealing to every consumer type. Grab-and-go foods—things you don’t have to heat—appeal to millennials, if the items are natural or ethnic. Baby boomers want small sizes. Store brand yogurt appeals to “realists,” the 84 percent of the population that cares most about value, while Greek yogurt appeals to “elites.” 

Increasingly, companies emphasize “natural”—rather than “organic,” which connotes expensive—and simplify ingredient lists. The article notes, “Lay’s potato chips promote ‘three simple ingredients’ (potatoes, oil, salt),” and concludes with a reminder of how things used to be: “Sixty years ago when the specialty food trade organization launched, Swiss chocolate was considered exotic and the standard ethnic food options were Italian pasta and chop suey.” —Susan Olasky

Mini-Me

Fans of Star Wars action figures or plastic Papa Smurfs might soon have something better (but expensive) to put in the toy box. A 3D copying machine at the Eye of Gyre exhibit in Japan, which runs until Jan. 14, allows people by appointment to pose for a photo and be rewarded with a small 3D replica of themselves. The little action figures come in three sizes starting at 10 centimeters (3.94 inches) and costing 21,000 yen ($264). —S.O.

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