Sarah Carter Studio » artist | photographer | writer | advocate


I’m going to be a bit candid here, I mean – a bit more candid than normal – and let you in on a secret.  I am terrified of raising a daughter.  I am scared of what it means to be the exact human person she will look to when she wonders what it means to be a woman.  How will I measure up?  Will I be enough?  Will I even be relevant when she begins to care about things like lipstick and boys or will the years of sleepless nights and countless laundry loads have taken their toll, rendering me useless to anyone of the fashion mindset below the age of 40?

These are things I worry about.

These things and also, I worry that I won’t have what it takes.  I’m curious if men happen to worry about these things when it comes to raising sons, or if this is a woman specific fear/obsession.  My husband says not so much.  But for me, as I ponder what it means to really raise up a daughter, I find the task terribly daunting.  Given my natural propensity to be a bit disengaged with the girly-girls, I find myself drowning in a daily sea of pink tutus and dress-up dolls and approximately 500 pairs of size 5 toddler shoes.  (side note: where do these shoes come from?  Surely I do not purchase them for her.  Grandparents – I hold you responsible.)  At any rate, suddenly I am flung into the deep end of a very, very girly sort of girl.

I am aware of how she is always watching me.  She is watching the way I look at my body.  She sees how I get dressed in the morning.  She sees my whole self.  My imperfect self.  My woman self.  She sees how I interact with this.  She is absorbing all of this information.  She watches as I apply lip gloss and frown at the increasing severity of the wrinkles dipping along my mouth and forehead.  She is watching me and waiting for my signal.  This!  This, baby girl, this is what it means to be a woman!  Notice how I am carrying myself now.  Pay attention to how often I say the words, “I’m sorry.” and “My mistake!” throughout the day.  Oh baby, don’t take up too much space.  Be small, be easy, be beautiful and pleasant.  

The feminist in me rages against this sort of talk, but I know these messages exist within me, as they do for most women.  It is a nearly impossible message to escape and most of us carry some sort of it with us through this life.  I want to pass on a heritage of worthiness to my daughter.  I want her to take up her space, I want to her rock her whole wild imperfect self with bold confidence.  I don’t want her to make herself small, or quiet, or diminished as a method for approval in society.  And yet, how on earth do we prevent this?  Yes, yes – certainly by living out a more compelling and beautiful way.  Yes, of course.  I work hard to listen to my own voice, to hear the still small truth within and to honor it by making choices to live bravely right out in front of her.

But also, mostly because my own understanding of what it means to mother a daughter is a bit skewed, given a childhood divorce which resulted in a resettling during those formative preteen years, I struggle with knowing how to lead without a map.  I don’t really know what I’m doing.  For years I’ve purchased the same mascara from the drugstore because I bought it once in eight grade and it seemed to do the trick.  I don’t know if I’m doing it right – I was the oldest child and in many ways without a compass during those in between years where you figure out what you’re going to be all about.  I don’t easily identify with women.  I always – always – feel like an outsider.

And now I am raising one.  Lord help us.

Except that… I’m noticing this tiny miracle happening.  My Mercy is healing me. From the inside out, she is allowing me to find that long lost part of myself.  The one who never really played with dolls or wanted to wear dresses.  To this day, my husband owns more shoes than I do, but slowly, so ever loving slowly, I am discovering the joy of living into my own sense of femininity.  My daughter is to thank for that.

I imagine the two of us will figure it out together.  I imagine as she grows she will insist we go on outings to the mall where we try on clothes and get our make-up done by those women at the beauty counters.  I will get my bravest self on for those days, I will suck in air and I will lift my shoulders and I will remember that I do not have to pretend to have it all together.  I do not have to act like I have the map.  I can smile, and I can step gently into the healing that is being orchestrated every step of the way with my wild and precious girly girl.  She and I, we are figuring it out together.

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  • October 16, 2014 - 2:33 pm
  • October 17, 2014 - 12:22 pm

    Jenni I. - I love this. I’m sure you’ve read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly after reading this, but in case you haven’t, you would love it. I love that raising a daughter and being a woman will be a mutual thing for you and Mercy. Love it.ReplyCancel

Sarah Carter Studio // home is home

Six weeks ago my little family and I pushed a shiny new key into a door and opened up a whole new chapter in our lives together.  Buying our house felt like this: it felt like diving blindly into the deep end of sparkling lake, it felt like running full speed in an open prairie so hard and so fast that tears streak down your face and your heart beats wildly in your chest, it felt like being wrapped in the softest warmest blanket you can imagine on a freezing cold day.  Closing on our new house felt exhilarating and comforting.  It is both the bravest and the safest decision we have ever made.

For the ten years that Steve and I have been married, we’ve spent those years in a total of eight different houses in three different states.  EIGHT.  So when I think about that, I think about the ways I have lived both on the outside and on the inside so very temporarily.  I have never really unpacked.  Never really settled into a place.  Always, always, the potential of a move was looming.  In a way, I welcomed that possibility, partially because I’m an artist at heart and the possibility of a new experience is inspiring to me.  Change fuels my creativity, to a point. Don’t fence me, don’t tell me this is all it will ever be, please oh please don’t make me settle down.  But change is also exhausting.  And lonely.  The last time we packed up and said goodbye to friends we’d worked so hard to make, it nearly broke me.

Six weeks into this place, I can already see the benefits spilling over into my story.  I’m unpacking boxes without thinking about how to pack them back up next year.  I’m letting myself dream a little bit about what ‘home’ is to me.  I can take a deep breath and I can hang up some art and I can paint a wall if I feel like it.  I don’t have to ask the landlord for permission, I can just do it. Steve and I sometimes smile at each other in the kitchen and marvel at how, yes we have grown up jobs and two kids – we are RESPONSIBLE PARENTS – and yet it took buying a home together to really make us feel like vetted grown ups.  So I’ve suddenly grown up – and there is such a surprising liberation in that.

I feared I was moving into more confinement, almost as if I was getting to the part of my story where it becomes predictable, which is usually the part where I close the book and move on.  But the twist is that instead of boring predictability, I’ve found freedom.  Having a home is the bravest thing I’ve done yet, because it means I’m submitting to the certainty of my story and I’m allowing myself to settle into it.  But it’s also the safest because in this home, I can count on love and light to lead.

In this home, we laugh.  We make dinner and sit at the table, telling stories and sharing highs and lows from our days. We turn up the music loud and slap our bare feet onto hardwood floors.  We have pillow fights and color our sidewalks full of chalky flowers and dinosaurs.  We listen to our son read books to his baby sister and we try not to laugh when she interrupts his stories with songs of her own.  In this house we tell the truth.  We tell it when it’s easy and we tell it when it’s hard.  We face our pasts and we walk through the struggle together.  We let ourselves feel the ache and the sadness when we need to and we let there be space to heal.  We make time to celebrate when things are good, too.  We are one another’s biggest advocates.  In this home, love wins.

I can’t begin to imagine how this space will transform us over the years.  I have a hunch it will shape us and give us context and affect our children as they grow.  Years will go by and every memory will be collected within the walls here, covering my little family with holy stories of us.  Home is home, it is a collection of what you make it and how you make it and why you make it.  Welcome home.

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Brittany and Matt have a lot to celebrate.  They recently purchased a new home and rang in nine years of marriage together.  When she contacted me about photos, her joy was spilling out all over her words.  I couldn’t wait to meet them and spend some time letting their love story be told through my lens.  We caught the light just right at that prairie of mine and it was, once again, magic.  Matt spun Brittany across the tall grasses and whispered sweet nothings in her ear and I got to snap away while she blushed and giggled like a woman in love – what a precious couple they are!

Brittany and Matt, guys your love is something real special.  I hope these photos bring back the memories of that night, of all that you have to celebrate, of where you have come from and what you have walked through together, and of all the dreams and adventures that are yet ahead for you.  May your new home be filled with sweet, sweet laughter and moments of God’s love pouring in from every corner.  Be blessed, my friends!

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Over the summer we travelled quite a bit.  We took back roads and the long way through small towns and lots of farmland.  We had a few destinations in mind to visit, but much of the trip was left open for the possibility of getting to wander and discover.  While we were in North Carolina, I had the chance to meet up with Amie in one of these small towns and take some photos for her.  It was a blast to find the little cafes and shop corners that held that perfect light, ready to be used to tell a story for Amie.  When we stumbled upon that old truck I about died of happiness.

Amie, it was a pleasure to connect with you and your bright spirit as we captured some moments of what it’s like to be “you” right here and right now.

Friends, meet Amie…

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I had such a great time shooting for this family, these kids were amazing.  When Rebekah first connected with me, she mentioned that her kids were creative and into learning new things.  Then she went on to say that they’d taught themselves to play the ukulele, write novels, and love to longboard.  Um, awesome!? I couldn’t wait to meet them and spend some time together.  This was an especially important moment for Rebekah and Kevin as they were preparing to send their oldest son, Wes, off to college this fall.  It was an honor to capture some of the sweeter moments with this family, as well as finding moments where the kids could be, well, themselves, in front of the lens.  What a super fun evening, complete with lots of laughter and candid memories forever held still in these photographs.  Here are a few highlights from our shoot:

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