Instagrammer Sarah Carter: ‘Being our best selves is beautiful’

As part of For Her’s #SoulBeauty campaign, we talked to everyday women who embrace the beauty in their lives, and share it with the world.

Instagram @heysarahcarter

Sarah Carter, a photographer, painter, writer, and advocate, sees beauty all around. Living in the Chicagoland area with her husband, Steve, son Emerson, eight, and daughter, Mercy, three, Carter captures a sense of wonder and awe through the lens of her camera, in the strokes and palates of her paintings, and in the words she chooses in her writings.

Carter’s way of capturing moments is compelling. Some moments are more fleeting than others, some more obvious—none easy to encapsulate—but Carter notices them, and tries.

“So much happens in the space between one second and the next,” Carter writes on her blog. “The slight turn of a head, the wink, the twist of fabric or light shooting through tall grasses. Life speeds by us and at the end of every day we are left with a collection of how the hours made us feel—the interactions and places we inhabited, the words spoken and touches felt.”

That is the spirit Carter captures in her art. Carter says, “I see art as a vessel for truth-telling, and therefore try to create from a deep and honest place, reflecting in my work themes of hope and healing and a promise that love is the ultimate victor.”

Perhaps this is what drew Carter to For Her’s #SoulBeauty campaign. It’s certainly what drew us to her. So we talked to Carter, asked her some questions about real beauty, her work, and her family.

For Her: What does #SoulBeauty mean to you?

S.C.: When I close my eyes and think about Soul Beauty, I see soft colors. Gray and marine and lilac and rose. Soul is such an ethereal word, organic and authentic and eternal. Beauty is a bit trickier, because our culture has done a very good job of convincing us that beauty means the way a person looks. But I like to think that beauty is the way a person loves. When we’re selfless and honest, when we are confident that life is not a competition and that there’s room for all of us to be our very best selves—that is beautiful. Soul beauty is this powerful combination of authentic love.

a language all their own. an old favorite from arizona. #cu_aroundtheworld #childhoodunplugged

A photo posted by Sarah Carter (@heysarahcarter) on

F.H.: What’s the most beautiful image you’ve ever captured—with your camera?

S.C.: I have this photo of my daughter twirling in the garden that takes my breath away. I think maybe it’s just a raw and pure snapshot of her, dancing and swirling and wild and innocent. It’s how I imagine her soul looks.

F.H.: What are the best things about your family?

S.C.: My sweet little family is the best part of getting to be alive on this great big planet. They are gifts in every way, they teach me what love looks like, and also the power of grace. We look at our life as an opportunity to learn, and no one gets left behind. We don’t compete with one another. We’re in it, together. We tell the truth to each other, and we reward honesty with love and acceptance, not judgement. I sometimes joke that I wasn’t born with the same map everyone else was given. What I mean is, other people make it look so easy. I look around and think, Our life is just not as smooth and shiny as theirs. But the more life I live, the more I’m pretty convinced we are all just winging it. And that’s the point—showing up for one another every day, over and over, practicing the art of love and grace.

I missed my mini me a whole, whole lot. 💛 #youaremywild #childhoodunplugged #mother

A photo posted by Sarah Carter (@heysarahcarter) on

F.H.: Tell us what a typical day is like for you.

S.C.: Usually I’m up much earlier than I’d like to be, as my daughter is an early riser. So a nice big cup of coffee helps ease me into the day. We keep it slow and quiet around the house in the morning, making breakfast and packing lunches and helping our son prepare for a big day of second grade. Our kids share a room, so our evenings wind down with shared stories and bedtime prayers. I’ll ask them to share a highlight and a lowlight from their day—it gives me insight into their hearts and often opens up some very sweet talks between us. I always look forward to sitting on our patio and sharing a glass of wine with my husband after the kids are asleep. It’s our little chance to unwind and catch up with each other.

and then she awoke. // mothering is a crash course in dying to self. and not in some precious way. no. it's the grabby, blood and guts, long and often painful letting go, resisting the urge to resist, letting ourselves be pushed even farther than we think we can withstand. it's waking up five times a night to comfort your sick babe while your own body screams at you for rest. it's the kind of love I imagine is the closest we may ever come to divinity. with every release of expectation, every letting go of entitlement and (let's be real) dignity, there is a space that opens up. what fills it? I have to wonder if it isn't God himself. when our egos are out of the way, our capacity for empathy and generosity expands beyond earthly, human limits. motherhood is the most ordinary/extraordinary miracle, isn't it? #mother #childhoodunplugged #youaremywild #emersonandmercy

A photo posted by Sarah Carter (@heysarahcarter) on

F.H.: Aside from wine on the porch, what’s your best marriage advice?

S.C.: It’s tough to narrow it down to one thing, but if I had to choose, I’d share our favorite line: “We against the world.” Here’s what I mean: recognize that the two of you are on the same side, that you have each other’s backs, and that you’re coming from a place of love and value. I’ve found that the times I’ve assumed I know what my husband is trying to say or filled in storylines for him rather than asking questions and letting him shine through, those have been some of the tougher and more frustrating times in our marriage. We’ve been married for 12 years and have walked through some really beautiful and really painful seasons in that time. The more I realize I have this wonderful, smart, kindhearted person with a wealth of personal wisdom and life experience to draw from, the better my own opportunities for growth and joy. I bring my own insecurities and perspectives into our relationship, just as he does, but the more we trust that we are for one another, the deeper and more rich our love becomes. Sometimes we’ll text each other simply WATW (We Against The World) as a reminder that we’re in this, together.

twelve years of sharing this wild and precious life. happy anniversary babe, love you like crazy.

A photo posted by Sarah Carter (@heysarahcarter) on

F.H.: How does faith play into that? In other words, what’s the role of faith in your life?

S.C.: I believe in love, love so big and wild and fierce and yet so small and tender and unwavering. God’s love for me and through me and beyond me influences everything in my life. It’s like the spark that initiates each painting, photograph, conversation, prayer, ache, and advocacy step I take. My husband is the teaching Pastor at our church, Willow Creek Community Church, and so church is a massive part of our lives. I serve on the board of directors as an advocate for City of Refuge Ministries, a nonprofit in Ghana that works to rescue and restore children who have been illegally trafficked. It’s work I’m honored to do because I have faith it has the power to make a difference. My belief in God and my trust in His love and grace are catalysts for my desire to love others wholeheartedly.

this is rhawnie, our sweet little friend at @cormghana our family has sponsored for the last few years. sponsorship is simply a monthly commitment that supplements a child's food, housing, and education needs. by us skipping one dinner out or a new sweater or maybe a good bottle of wine a month, she gets to experience a life of provision and hope. new sponsors are always needed and it's an excellent way to partner with the efforts of @cormghana. you can learn more and sign up at their website, link in their profile. 💛 // wrapping up this weeks efforts to highlight city of refuge with invitations to join us in the fight to protect these vulnerable children. a few more portraits to come today, thank you so much for your connection throughout this project! #EndChildTrafficking #EndItMovement #Ghana #LetLoveLead #Africa #mamabird

A photo posted by Sarah Carter (@heysarahcarter) on

Find out more about Sarah on her website and on Instagram.

Caryn Rivadeneira
Caryn Rivadeneira

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of five books and is a columnist for Her.meneutics and ThinkChristian. She lives outside Chicago with her husband, three kids, and one red-nose pit bull. Visit her at

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