Sarah Carter Studio » artist | photographer | writer | advocate

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So here is the deal: every year we commit to buying only four (three – but we will get to that) gifts for our kids. We’ve got a couple years of this practice under our belts and so far, so good. I mean, there haven’t been any revolts, riots, or complaints thus far. So I feel like that is a good sign, right? Are we awesome? Or are we in the running for worst parents of the year? Time will tell, people. Time. Will. Tell.

So, if you’re still reading, perhaps you’re interested in initiating this little practice into your own family, or perhaps you just want to know exactly how to avoid putting your children through a similar fate. Either way, here are the four gifts of our Christmas:

1. Something you want. This one is easy, in part because the want list is about four pages deep at this point and I just randomly carefully select a favored item and viola! Checked box.

2. Something to read. This one tends to also be easy in our home. Emerson is an avid reader (last week he read a 500 page book in a day and a half. #nerdalert) and so his list of desired books is nearly as long as his list of toys/gadgets/technology. Mercy is happy with anything unicorn so again, done deal. CHECK.

3. Something to wear. I’m going to be honest. This one is tricky right now for us. It might just be our kids ages, as 8 and 3 year olds don’t tend to care too much what you put them in. Is it soft? Does it keep me warm/cool? FINE THEN. Carry on. (Check.)

4. Someone in need. This one is my favorite. It is all our favorites you guys. We present our kids with three worthy opportunities to donate a set financial amount to a charity/cause — and then we let our kids choose which one they want to support. We get to hear why they picked what they did, and then together we make the donation online. Sometimes its a service project, like last year when Emerson and I littered our city with coats for the homeless. It can be as awesome as you dream it to be! Best of all, it teaches our kids that the world is much bigger than them and also, spoiler alert – it really doesn’t revolve around them. Generosity and humility?! Check and Check.

Here is why this is so hard to really stick to: because we want to spoil our kids. They are awesome. We are awesome. WE ALL WANT TO BE AWESOME. And Christmas becomes some sort of strange vortex of validation of the awesomeness that is us. So when your kids only get four (three) gifts and their friends get twenty – thats hard. It will trigger something in you. It will make you want to binge-purchase ALL OF THE THINGS on Amazon on a late December 23rd night. But the secret is – you are enough. You are enough!

The gifts are a bonus!

Your kids know you love them. Their security and validation isn’t dependent on a Christmas morning that looks like Santa threw up all over your living room. Trust that the love and affirmation and little “just because” gifts you give them throughout the year will be enough. Your love is enough. And when they open each carefully thought out gift, and when they get to push “send” on a gift for someone who otherwise goes without, their little hearts will grow tens sizes. I promise.

So here is to saying No Thank You to the Christmas machine. Here is to saying Love Matters Most to all the commercials and stores hungrily shaming you into giving them all your money. We got this, friends. Lets raise decent, humble, generous humans, shall we? At Christmas, and always.


Merry Christmas!


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I don’t mean to write a political post. Honestly I am still too used up and empty to summon the right words for it. I don’t know how to string together the perfect letters to form the perfect refrain that honors both sides, exposes the pain that exists in the wake, and finds some way to cast vision for unity and peace. I want magic words and I fear that might not be possible.

All throughout the election cycle I assured myself that his supporters were fringe – his hate speech and endorsements by such hate mongering supremacist groups as the KKK surely provided enough cause for concern to reconsider him as the party nominee – right? Surely we don’t want a man leading us who has multiple accusations of sexual assault, including facing trial for raping a 13 year old girl. He summed up in one vulgar sentence why it is so scary to be a (person with disabilities, a woman, Muslim, Latino, Black, or LGBTQ+ person) today. That is not someone we want representing us.. Right?

And as I watched the numbers tally and collect all night long, I realized that I might not actually have a clue what more than half of our population wants.

I went to bed sick to my stomach. I woke up and felt like I had a horrible hangover, achy and slow and spinning. November 9th is a blur, I could barely find motivation to get through the day. I felt the weight of it all. A shift of cosmic proportions began the moment we picked him.

I feel the weight of it because I am a woman. Because I am raising one. Because I’m also raising a son, and I don’t want him to think its okay to shame, exclude, bully and make fun of people who are different.

Because I still hope to adopt our boy in Ghana some day. And because I am terrified of what his future might look like if he comes home in the next four years.

Fear is the catalyst to all of this mess.

Make no mistake – this is war we’ve been thrust into. And it isn’t other people we are fighting. It is fear masked as hate and fury. It is fear masked as control, as power, as supremacy.

The only remedy is love.

Not the trite kind. Real love. Humble love. Honest brave welcoming love. The kind that takes a deep breath, rolls up its sleeves and volunteers to be step up to the front lines of this war.

I see you, brother. I see you, sister. I see you with fear on your shoulders and I see through your hate. I’m fighting for you, really. I want you to  be free. It’s better to be free. It’s better when you can let go of your agenda, stop holding onto the slithering tail of fear and let it go. I’ll be brave and stand up to the fear you throw my way, because I want you to be free.

I see you, brother. I see you, sister. I see you feeling like you are worthless. Like your skin has become a threat to your very life. I see you unsure if it’s safe to walk through your neighborhood anymore. I see you shaking as you try decide if you should forgo the hijab today. I’m fighting for you. I want you to be free. I want you to be safe. I want you to stay strong and stay away from hate. Don’t go there. Be brave and hold the line with me.

I’ve asked for book recommendations that will help me understand what it is like to see the world in a way that differs from my experiences. I want to know, because I want to find that common ground so we can walk together, arm in arm, advancing on enemy lines every day. No matter how tired and scared and wounded we get. I’ve got your back, love warrior.

*I will add another post with a list and links to the books I’m going to be reading. Please feel free to recommend more.



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blink and we’ll miss it, but for these precious few weeks here in chicago we get to enjoy real true fall. the kind that makes jeans and boots and sweaters feel fun, not a total necessity and not yet buried under piles of winter coat layers. I’m still living in capsule world, and here are my top picks for the season.


1. vegan leather jacket; 2. green army jacket; 3. stripe shirt; 4. cream sweater; 5. petite gold earrings; 6. wave hair spray; 7. vegan leather skirt; 8. city bag; 9. charlie boots (similar less expensive);  10. straight leg denim; 11. ex-boyfriend shirt (similar less expensive)

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this paining was such a pure heart response to all the pain of last week. our country is aching, wounded and broken hearted, angry and confused and scared. and so much of that was wrapped up in me as well. paint has always been the way i say things, deep feeling things that are hard to say any other way. this piece was no exception.  it’s sorrow and hope all at once. it’s holding space for the ache. it’s all the mamas who lost their babies to senseless violence. it’s the battle cry for peace. it’s all of us.

inspired by the lyrics of this sweet old song:

+Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely,
And long for heaven, heaven and home,
When, when Jesus is my portion,
My constant Friend is He;
Oh, oh-oh, his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches, watches it over me.
I sing because I’m happy
I sing because I’m free
For His eye, his eye is on the sparrow,
And I know, I know He watches over me

*SOLD* original: 16″x20″x1.5″

prints can be found in various formats here.


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I spent this evening wrangling my children through dinner and bath time, through ‘just one more’ bedtimes stories and snuggles and kisses goodnight. And then more goodnights and at a certain point, the inevitable Mom/Batman voice: I SAID GOODNIGHT! Bedtime while it’s still light out is a whole damn thing and we are working on it (thanks for that, summer.) I spent tonight distracted, switching back and forth from washing grapes and folding laundry and making mental lists of what to pack for our upcoming trip to Arizona. I also spent a lot of time thinking about yesterday. And the basement. The basement!

All day long there had been warnings of ‘The Storm”… there had been rumors of tornados and threats of a torrential downpour. My friends and I joked late that afternoon at how dramatic our news people are here in Chicago, because at that point the storm was just a bunch of pitiful harmless gray clouds. Little did I know, there was more in store for me later that evening. At about 9 PM my darling son, who had eagerly climbed downstairs for a special movie night, yelled frantically, “MOM! There is water in the basement! It’s like a river!”

Good people of the world, this is about the very last thing you want to hear from your child. I had just finally gotten Mercy to actual sleep and was tiptoeing downstairs when he broadcasted the news. No. NONONONONO.

Now might be a good time to mention that this particular evening was a Wednesday, and that on Wednesdays Willow has their MidWeek service, of which Steve is a part of. And as such, his phone was off and he was completely unreachable and oblivious to our clear and present disaster. Perfect.

I should also mention that I grew up in Arizona, where it is very hot and very dry. Like, we almost never have this thing called rain. It is a desert, people. And also we do not have such things as basements. So I have basically no idea what to do at this point.

Mercy had awoken, because she is an eternal socialite blessed with some sort of maniacal internal alert for when she’s missing out on something exciting. She is up and she is dancing and singing and splashing through the sloshy carpet, her Frozen nightgown dragging at her feet.

I panicked a little and then called Steve about a hundred times. Yes, each call went directly to voicemail, but at this point it was more or less my only move.

In a desperate attempt to reach him, I posted a grainy, sad photo of our water-logged situation on Instagram. Within minutes, seconds even, I had texts and messages coming in from people offering to help. Somehow, through the wonders of technology, my unreachable husband even caught wind and called me back. Miracles upon miracles!

As I scooped up toys and boxes and raced to move them to higher ground, friends arrived armed with Shop Vacs and dehumidifiers and industrial fans. The next several hours were a blur of rolled carpet padding and extra large trash bags and roaring fans blowing air over our poor pooling carpet. Those hours were filled with something else as well. Abundant hospitality.

Here it was, ten o’clock at night and an entire family showed up for us. They brought what we needed, in more ways than one. They met our practical, immediate needs but they also offered us a sense of belonging and relationship. I was caught up in the simple profound beauty of it. Mercy was snuggled in my arms at this point, too tired to stand but too stubborn to sleep. Emerson had long ago jumped in to help, enjoying being able to stay up and hang with the grown-ups.

Usually, usually – I am the one meeting the need. I don’t mean that in a weird self-appreciative sort of way. I think one of the outlets for how I handle the stress of pain is by meeting the needs of others. I can’t fix what is wrong, but I can offer the gift of presence, of validation. I can find a way to help ease the loneliness that I think often accompanies struggle. But that role isn’t the one I’m am always meant to play. It isn’t supposed to be my default. It’s good sometimes, but not always. Sometimes I’m supposed to be the one who sits, openhanded, unable to solve it myself, willing to be led and loved by another who knows more than I do. God gave me this strange gift in the middle of my Noah’s Ark moment last night. He invited me to be the recipient of grace. He let me remember what it feels like to be cared for by others.

For all the drama and excitement, we are hopeful that the damage is minimal. The fans are running even still as I type this, working hard to dry up all that water. The kids slept in until 9 AM, and we’ve had several precious check-ins and donut deliveries and offers to help through out the day. I sometimes struggle with understanding the ways the actual, tangible purpose of the church is put on display – and then I have moments like last night and I realize that is love right here. It is people showing up, regardless of the hour or the need, ready to serve and give what they can. That was church last night, in the most beautiful and inclusive sense of the word. Perhaps, in the very way it was meant to be used in the first place. Church shows up, with Shop Vacs and cookies and hugs and laughter. That’s love with boots on. To everyone who lived church to our family last night and today – thank you for putting on your boots and showing up in our hour of need.

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