Sarah Carter Studio » artist | photographer | writer | advocate

Yesterday I read an account that left me emptied and weak, like a brittle eggshell once the life inside has hatched.  I could barely walk, or think, I was so consumed with the feelings of helplessness and grief.  After reading last week about the ten year old girl in Nigeria who was made to self-detinate a bomb attached to her body in a public square (killing herself and nineteen other innocents) I have been walking around with these words in my head.  Boko Haram.  Nigeria.  Women.  Bring back our girls.  Where are the advocates?  Who do we turn to?  And then yesterday, reports began trickling in about the deadliest attacks to date in Borno State, Nigeria – both credited to Boko Haram.  This satellite image published by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch show the devastation:


(the red dots represent buildings and vegetation before the attacks)

As the reality of the loss began to sink in, I opened my facebook feed, searching for posts and common outcry.  But there was nothing.  No one was saying anything about it.  There were plenty of posts on the Oscar noms and other celeb news, but nothing whatsoever about the massive war crimes that had just wiped out two entire villages.  Our sister, Nigeria, is being violated right before our eyes, and we are doing nothing to stop it.  Why is this?  I know the people I’m connected to via social media – they are smart, caring, involved people who often use the feeds as platforms for justice.  Where were they yesterday?  Why was no one aligning themselves with this cause?

I don’t really have the answers.  It seems to be a similar problem to last month’s school bombing in Pakistan, where 132 people, mostly children, were murdered.  It was Christmas.  As a country we had just walked through Ferguson and Eric Garner and we were ready for something lighter and easier to swallow.  We were weary of the sorrow, the weight of reality too much to bear, and I wonder if we simply shut down emotionally.

I don’t like to be the downer here, I really consider myself a (realistic) optimist.  I actually believe that the world can get better (I know that makes some of you snicker and suggest that I am just still too young to know.)  But – I have allowed myself to see tragedy – I have faced it, felt it, embraced that it is true about life on this planet.  I just choose to believe that ultimately, love wins.  Because I have seen that as well.  I have allowed myself to see the love, winning, also.  And this gives me hope.  It fuels the fire in my belly to see all things made new.

But it takes our blood, sweat, and tears.  It takes our hope, prayers, and voices.  It takes our hands and feet.  It takes our time, energy, finances.  Love wins by the choices we make and what we do with what we have.

I am not one who believes that we humans are inherently evil.  I think we are lovely, good, precious creatures.  I think at our best, we are love incarnated.  But I’m not naive – I know we are capable of grievous evils.


I keep looking at this photo, crying as I try to imagine what these children have just seen, felt, and experienced.  These sweet children.  I wish I could reach into this photograph and hold them.

 I can’t fix this.  We can’t change people.  The politicians behind Boko Haram have masterfully preyed on the weak and desperate, using fear, threats, religion and promises of wealth to motivate them to do horrible things.  There is no simple answer to solve this problem, of course.  But, these are crimes against humanity – they are crimes against HUMANITY – and we are doing nothing to stop them.

Nigeria is our sister, and she is screaming in pain.  Why aren’t we listening?

All I wanted to do yesterday was to curl up under a blanket and let the pain disappear.  But I couldn’t do that.  And so I lit a candle, a tiny flame that flickered all day long – a testament of what had happened and a promise to remember my sister.  I kept drifting to the woman, Anjou, that I’d met a few weeks ago at the Pak n Mail around the corner from my house.  I’d been running errands all day, and stopped in with a package to ship, and she’d met me with a huge beautiful smile and thick African accent.  In getting to know her, she shared that she was from Nigeria and that her family was still there.

As I watched the flame sparking, her voice was in my head and I prayed hard, short prayers for her family, for her heart, (and I realize Nigeria is a big place, and that there are many parts of it that are not currently invaded with islamic extremists, but she is the flesh and blood person I can carry in my mind as I read these stories.)

I prayed, but it wasn’t enough – there was an unrest in my heart.  I had to see her.  Look, I know it seems weird, but I just needed to connect and see her and somehow relay to her that I was not shutting my eyes to Nigeria.  So after I dropped Mercy at school, I stopped in at the shop.  As she came around the corner, I tried really hard to keep it together, not wanting to freak her out in case she did not remember me at all.  But she did, and she smiled at me, and I told her I had been thinking about her and just wanted to check in.  I asked about her family (they are okay) and she shared about her heart (which is worried and weary.)  I left the shop feeling more connected to my sister, more rooted in the story happening there, and more motivated than ever to speak up for her.

If you, like me, would like to find ways to use what we have to combat fear with love in Nigeria, here is a list of reputable resources.  It’s not a solution, but it’s a start.

What is Boko Haram: Great, simple start to understanding this militant Islamic group.

CRS Nigeria: CRS employs an integrated approach to help poor and vulnerable people lead full and productive lives.

I tried to research more organizations and was shocked to see that there isn’t more relief involvement in Nigeria.  If you happen to know of more, please link and comment!

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  • January 17, 2015 - 8:21 am

    corinne - XOReplyCancel

  • January 21, 2015 - 2:24 am

    Link - The most important relief they need is the ability to defend themselves. Their government thinks this is a game…and the world looks on. I have friends there and I’m angry about the joke of a response to this.ReplyCancel

  • January 23, 2015 - 2:37 pm

    Nicole G. - Thank you for this powerful reminder! My heart often gets overwhelmed by grief, and I embarrassingly shut down. I feel so helpless, and I just push it away. But that is not who I am. That is not who I want to be. I need to fight through that and remind myself that it is not about me. It is about them. And they need my love and support. Thank you for reminding me that I am more.ReplyCancel

At the end of last year I had the chance to travel to California for a speaking event and creative workshop.  While there I also got to photograph this amazing family, who happen to be some of our very dearest friends.  Annette and Andrew have known us since our early married days in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  We were all transplants from different states, brought together to the little midwest city by career, calling, and chance.  I like to think that God had a bit to do with it, as well.  My husband describes Andrew as an oak tree friend – he is stable and loyal and trustworthy – deeply grounded and wise.  And Annette, well, she is somehow able to be wise and insightful, incredibly generous and kind, and sharply witty all at once.  She also has basically the best sense of style of anyone I’ve ever met.  Together we have walked through countless changes, our lives ebbing and flowing as we moved cross-country more than once, became parents, and essentially grew up.  I wouldn’t be who I am today without them in my life, and I know I’m not the only one who could say the same.

So dearest Annette and Andrew, together with your precious children playing and splashing at one of your favorite beach spots, may these memories serves as anchors for you in wilder waters.  This space, these moments, are a reflection of your truest selves.  Love you guys!

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2013-01-09 21.43.45

It’s the same every year around this time. We make promises to ourselves and others that we will be better in all sorts of ways.  The places we frequent mirror our collective desire to be better, stores line their shelves with tools and gadgets designed to keep us better organized, managed, and efficient.  Calendars, file storage, plastic bins.  Linens and cleaning supplies and workout clothes.  All there for us to consume in a flurry of renewed ambition cast by our New Year visions.

If we’re not careful this way of looking at it can add up to a whole lot of pressure.  In the midst of the effort we put forth to be better, we can sort of miss the point.  We run the risk of becoming outward focused, bent on the approval and affirmation of others rather than getting ourselves involved with the inner process of change.  Most of the change that needs to happen to develop a new way of living occurs slowly, on the inside of us.  It’s our rhythms and routines and the way we try to be kind to ourselves with lots of naps and gentleness and space.  But that doesn’t provide much evidence to show for ourselves when confronted with a question about our resolutions.  What do you resolve to be about for these next 365 days?  

Resolve.  It’s a weighty word.

I’m not sure I can answer it, really.  It’s too big.

…But I can say what I want to have more of in my life over the next year.  I can call out the things I want to let go of and the things I want to invite in.  I have more clarity about what I will make space for in my heart and less tolerance than ever for the things that are cutting into my soul.  And it’s taken every day up to now to be able to put them into words, real out-loud words that come from my own lips.  Say what you want.  This has never been easy for me.  I don’t dwell in that world very often.  My current life only aids my ability to avoid asking these questions of myself, the littles beckoning me with their daily energies and needs and action.

The lines of what to give away and what to keep get blurred when you become more than just you.  It begins the moment your forever intersects with another’s, the two become one and you start to build a future together.  You learn to compromise, you gain perspective beyond your immediate reality, and you get to witness your dreams expand their reach way beyond what you’d dared hope.

And then you have lots of babies together.  And those little babies take up residence in your heart, pushing and merging the lines of where you end and they begin.  It all gets mixed together, a palette of creams and corals and aquamarine swirl into a subtle grey.  No longer distinguishable as separate, your work changes.  What you make, changes.  You used to paint portraits or landscapes or whatever.  But now, now you find yourself caught up in the music, slapping your mixed up grey paint onto canvas with your fingertips.  You smash old photographs on top of layers of corals and creams, and smile sweetly as you discover that the color of your daughter’s eyes is the exact same color as that old aquamarine paint you used to have, long before you’d blended it in.  It’s all still there, you see.  Layers.  Mixed.  Blended.  Stories don’t disappear, they simply merge and absorb into one another.

What I want is to make more time to paint this year.  More space to mix the colors and build the stories on the canvas of my life.  I want to engage with those safe, loving, soft people in my life and I want to seek out those who surprise and inspire me.  I want to stop letting those who only want to take from me, take.  And I want to find more ways to fill up the palette with new colors, new stories, new perspectives, and new ways to love well.

I can’t resolve to be better this year, but I can certainly commit to making more time to paint with the loves of my life.


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Okay, today it is cloudy and gray for the umpteenth day in a row and I. AM. OVER. IT.  So, I’m coping by sharing these darling, sunshiny newborn photos of baby Elliot with you.  You’re welcome.

Jenny and John Potter are one of the sweetest families I know, and they are both amazing parents, jumping in both feet to the adventure of the tiny precious, wild world of raising up a baby boy.  I had such a great time shooting for them way back when the sun was out and the weather was warm, and was glad for the baby snuggles and even some love from Harriet, the proud (doggy) big sister.



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I had such a great time photographing Aida and her sweet guys.  We met up at the beach while I was visiting California last month, and I had the opportunity to capture some moments for she and her husband, Eddie, and their adorable son Parker.  The weather was perfect (but when is is not perfect in Southern California?!) and we had a great time discovering new little beach houses to shoot.  Enjoy!

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