Sarah Carter Studio » artist | photographer | writer | advocate

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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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Last week I was talking to a dear friend of mine who lives in California. She was on her way to a silent retreat for the weekend and so obviously called so we could talk and talk before it was forbidden (we like to live on the edge like that.) We talked about all the ways that life is curved and splitting, how most of it looks very different than what we’d expected when we set out all confident and certain in our freshly graduated days. We spoke of tender things. The things that ache, the desires left unmet. The splinters dug down deep, impossible to scratch away. In our own unique ways, we both had desires to grow our families that weren’t going as expected. The map we thought we had a hold of turned out to be just a handful of paper thin lines and empty promises.

Something happens to us at our core, I believe, when our expectations fall far from reality. The things we’d learned to fall back on before suddenly just don’t cut it. It’s like we’re out in the middle of nowhere, like we’ve been following a path carved out before us and holding onto a map we’ve never really needed to use. Walk forward, straight and narrow, don’t look back, don’t move off the trail. But then, it happens. We get to the part where the trail has been washed out. It’s now that we try desperately to look to the map to show us what to do. But the map isn’t right, not anymore. Because the way forward has changed. What is needed for the next right step is something new. Something brave.

My daughter Mercy has a beautiful children’s book that talks about the many ways our hearts can feel. One of the pages has a picture of the world on it, round and simple. The writing talks about how our hearts feel when we are brave, and every time we come to it Mercy points to the very far curve of the world and says, “Look mama! This is where I be brave on the edge.”

Brave on the edge. There’s something to that, isn’t there? I know how to do it when I’m smack in the comfy cozy middle. That’s the easy stuff, its just “what is.” But if I am paying attention I’ll see that when I come to the end of something, there is a bridge that can take me from edge to edge. There is a choice we get to make, when our life doesn’t make sense. When bad things happen for no reason, when the answer is no when we so desperately want a yes. It’s what we do when we decide to move from this point that makes all the difference in our growth. Stay stuck, like the sad little ant that loses it’s trail, waiting for the path to reappear (it won’t) or waiting for someone to tell us what to do next. But faith happens to be the bridge, and we can’t see it until we decide to move forward. Having faith doesn’t mean we get what we want and it doesn’t mean we get to go back to where we were going before. Faith takes us to an entirely new place.

New ways require a stronger faith, that is, the belief that there is Someone Good who wants Good for us. Believing that is easy when life is easy. And it’s nearly impossible when life is shattered glass at your feet. You can’t walk on broken shards, you need something to carry you over it. You need a bridge. We all do.

What I admire about my California friend is that she didn’t insult the pain by offering up cliches and shallow words. She didn’t try and fix it or be the bridge for me. She spoke truth, she let herself go right up to the edge, and she showed me how to be brave. The best friends are the ones who lead you to your own courage, your own bridge, and stay with you along the way.

At the end of our talk, I mentioned that I haven’t been blogging much, that there is some new fear wrapped up in writing in this messy and honest format. And she said, “I hear you, I do. But Sarah, write anyways.”

And so, here I am. Brave at the edge.

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so happy to share some of my favourite work to date. inspired by the gorgeous poems of pablo neruda, and now available in limited print release. find them all, here.

sarah carter studio

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