37/52 Sahara’s Project



Some of my favorite paintings in the @52thingsofbeauty project have been through nominations on the website! One of the most rewarding things about this project has been painting for people that I’ve never met. It is so much fun to hear stories of people choosing to make a difference especially when their stories have reached across state lines! In North Carolina, Jasmine nominated her Aunt Ashlyn and Uncle Shane Ferguson as “Beautiful Givers”. There are so many good people in this world, like really good people that make a difference in ways that are so amazing. These are two of them. They have chosen to take a hard situation and turn it into a way to help others financially who are going through similar situations! Here is their incredible story from their organization website http://www.saharasproject.com


       I would like to share the love story of how Sahara’s Project came to be.

It all started when I met my lovely wife Ashlyn. We had our first date at sixteen, and many more for the next eight years. In September 1995 we made it official and pledged to spend the rest of our lives together. After three years of blissful marriage, we were thrilled to learn that we would be welcoming a new member into our small family. We named our little miracle Sahara Lynn and had such wonderful plans for her. But when her day of arrival came, we lost her.

At the time, we didn’t understand the reason she was taken from us, and had to believe that the Lord had much grander plans for her than we could even imagine. Time does heal but doesn’t forget. We have used the very challenging and difficult times to rebuild and make us stronger.

We now have five wonderful boys, ages two to seventeen. Each child is a blessing and we are so thankful for them.

One of our youngest, (Cash) became ill when he was one year old, resulting in a brain bleed that left his left side paralyzed, and his motor skills in a state where he needed to relearn arm and leg functions. 

Experiencing Cash’s struggle has shed a major light upon the way we view children with disabilities that need therapy to help restore their health and mobility. This is something we never gave much thought to until we had a child with challenges.  It made me realize how much I take for granted when things are going smoothly and good health is bountiful.

The more Ashlyn and I work with Cash in therapy and see other parents and single mothers trying to provide the needed therapy for their children, and falling short because of financial reasons, or don’t have enough time to make ends meet; the more we see a need for provision and assistance.

Knowing the struggles and challenges that these parents and children are faced with, firsthand; has made us very passionate about helping. 

We have a heart for underprivileged children, foster children, and single parents. We can’t fix everything, but we can do our part and feel that sometimes just the smallest things matter in the biggest way.

Sahara’s Project is a way to provide help to those who need it, and a way for our Sahara to be remembered forever.

 Shane & Ashlyn Ferguson. Snapseed 3


Isn’t that amazing? What a beautiful way to remember their daughter! Shane and Ashlyn you are truly an inspiration to so many people. You saw a need and jumped into action. Thank you Jasmine for sharing the story of your Aunt and Uncle! They are “Beautiful Givers” indeed! If you are looking to donate to an organization this holiday season… this would be a great one!

-Lauren Woods

25/52 She chose not to let the diagnosis of MS define her but to create a beautiful example to her children that love, strength, faith and prayer define her… and always will.

Disabling, chronic, disease…words used to define multiple sclerosis.  As with all words, they hold power.  When heard they can instill fear or pity, they can change a life, or even encourage defeat.  But if you look carefully enough, they can also beautifully inspire.  Not in the words themselves but in the people who defy them.  The people who battle MS every day and chose victory.  The people who do not declare the fight easy, but rather find strength to overcome it.  The people who chose love, who focus on others, and who put family and children first.  The people who show the world that they will not be defined by the struggles they face, and who make the world a better place through their example of service in spite of hardship.  The people who prove to us that love, strength, faith, prayer…these are powerful words indeed.

This is the way Brewer Hicklen’s mom, Connie has chosen to live her life. This is the reason he contacted me to design a painting to honor her. Brewer grew up an incredible athlete. He was a Division 1 college football player and baseball player. He then went on to play professional baseball and currently is living his dream doing so. He’s an All-American kid. The kind that you hope your son grows up to be. Not because he’s good at sports, but because he’s about the right things…one of those things being the way he loves his mama. Below in his own words he shares about his mother’s fight with MS and how she never allowed the disease to stop her from being the best mother she could be.

“I think everyone can agree that your love for the Lord is what radiates the most and everything else follows. From a young age you have taught me what love is. You taught me to first love the Lord with all your heart. I can honestly say, that is the reason I am here today. Second, you taught me to love our family. You told me that when life gets a little shaky, look to your family to encourage and support you. You also taught me to love others. You always told me you never know what is going on in someone’s life and to look for the positives and leave an impact on their life. Lastly, you taught me to love myself. To be proud of what God has made. To be humble and confident in everything that I do. To embrace myself and to accept not just who I am, but whose I am.

Throughout your life you have inspired, encouraged, and motivated all to push past what life throws at you. And I am not talking about all the good; I am talking the hills that you have had to climb. Most people don’t know but my mom was diagnosed with MS 16 years ago. What most people see is a beautiful, motivational, God loving woman; what they don’t see is her battle with her health everyday. Because of her MS, she is easily fatigued, forgetful, and struggles with her strength.

With MS being more than most can handle, you have also struggled with skin cancer, a breast cancer scare, eye surgery, and gum surgery. You truly are a warrior!

The most amazing part is I have not once heard you complain about the cards you have been dealt in life. You choose to accept what has been given, make the most of it, and impact others along the way. One of my favorite moments is during an MS Society meeting a few years ago when you where sharing your testimony, without a dry eye in the room, about how you have conquered your life with MS. So many people left encouraged, fulfilled, and confident that they can continue their life without slowing down.”

So many mothers, including myself, hope that we can set positive examples for our children. That they will see something good in us. There is no question Brewer sees strength in his mother. Strength that has made him the man he is today. She chose not to let the diagnosis of MS define her but to create a beautiful example to her children that love, strength, faith and prayer define her… and always will.

If you would like to learn more about ways you can donate your time or give to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Click https://www.nationalmssociety.org/Get-Involved. To learn more ways to give follow my Instagram page @52thingsofbeauty.

Thank you for reading and learning the stories behind my paintings. These stories turn my artwork into 52 Things of Beauty.

Lauren and Emily Woods

18/52 Kindergarten class makes gift for Phenix City Police Department

If you want to get to know someone well, sit right next to them when they are pregnant. This next painting goes to my former coworker Ben, who had to do just that while I was pregnant with my daughter. Boy could he tell some stories on me. He had to watch me eat 36 rice Krispy treats every day before noon because I thought “carbs” helped my morning sickness. I would also cry when my computer wouldn’t start, prop up my swollen sumo sized ankles while burping and pounding tums like it was my job. Let me just tell you, it wasn’t easy for either one of us! But luckily, we remained friends and now he will be well prepared when his sweet wife gets pregnant one day haha! They asked for a picture of the barn where they got married in Mountain Cove Farms, Chickamauga, GA.fullsizeoutput_4dc5

Racheal is a kindergarten teacher in Georgia and wanted to get her class involved with 52 Things of Beauty by letting them suggest ways of giving back. One of them knew a little girl in the class had a father who was a police officer for the Phenix City Police Department. They decided it would be fun to make books thanking the officers for keeping them safe. What a great idea! Thank you Mrs. Carter’s Class from South Smiths Station Elementary for giving the Phenix City Police Department a well deserved gift!

As I was writing this I couldn’t help but think, what it would be like being married to a police officer? How scary it would be to know that your husband had to go into dangerous situations. Most police officers went into the profession because they were proud to serve their communities. So that their kindergarten daughters can grow up in a safe place, so that we can live in a safe place. That is such a selfless act. So that is why I love this idea, Mrs. Carter’s class. You are giving appreciation to a group of people who are heroes and their families are too; for allowing them to serve. Thank you police officers! I hope Mrs. Carter’s class encourages more kids to thank all those in professions that serve! Also, I will be giving away a painting to a police officer/spouse on my Instagram page @52thingsofbeauty.com. Thank you for reading and learning about a new way to give!

Have a great week!

Love, Lauren Woods

15/52 1st Graders #Give a Compliment

My sweet friend Dana teaches 1st Grade at Cary Woods Elementary in Auburn, Alabama. She needed a painting for her living room and agreed to participate in 52 Things of Beauty. The project where I paint one painting a week for a year, my labor is free, and I just ask in return for the recipients to pay it forward by giving in a way special to them, thereby turning the Art into 52 Things of Beauty. Then I share their idea with you guys,  through my Instagram Page @52thingsofbeauty and this blog…inspiring others to give! This is painting 15/52.

Dana got her class involved and the results were priceless! They each made books for their mother’s and father’s and were asked to Give them a compliment. Then she helped them make the compliments into books for Mother’s and Father’s Day. Thank you Dana! Not only for being an incredible teacher, but teaching that it is easy to give a compliment and put a smile on someone else’s face! These are the lessons that your students will never forget! And I know their mommy’s and daddy’s will hold onto these cards forever. Here are a few of these precious, little innocent hearts giving out compliments:

If you have a way to give and want a painting, you can go to the ‘Nominate a Giver’ section. Every month, I choose a “Beautiful Giver” to receive a painting unique to them.

Thanks for following along with me!


14/52 Gift of a Mother

To give….during this project of giving; It seemed fitting to reflect on who first taught us to give.  Who led us down the path of selflessness that Christ first laid out?  Who, when our nature told us to take, when our first words were “mine” and “no”, who showed us what it meant to put others first…and to give?

The answer is simple, our mamas.  Not by telling us to do so, but by example, giving to their children and families our whole lives looking for nothing in return.  They give mind, body, and heart.  They give of their sleep with early morning rises and late night nightmare checks. They give up the last of the milk and give up taking a shower to get us to school.  They give of their time driving form one practice to another, reading bedtime stories a thousand times over, and making two versions of dinner because tomatoes are gross. They give boundaries we hate but that keep us safe.  They give comfort during dramatic tears and genuine sorrows.  Some moms are required to give more…and they do with extended hospital stays or working more than one job.  They give help with homework and science fairs due the next day; pestering teachers, doctors, or us as necessary.  They kiss hurt knees and never leave our sides when we are sick.  They are the ones we are meanest to because we know they will love us anyway.  And through all this they raise us to know our value; that we are loved and important and worthy, but not more than another…for they give to others as well.  They give to siblings and strangers alike showing us the beauty of community.  And through all this giving, through all this sacrifice, we may not even realize that they see their sacrifice as privilege.

So to all mothers, the mothers who know the pains of childbirth, the mothers who have carried their children not in their bellies but solely in their arms, the mothers who share heart, mind, and soul with the ones they have given life in every sense of the word.  To the mothers who have witnessed the lives of their children and the mothers who maybe have also seen their unthinkable deaths and even the mothers still waiting to be mothers…we honor you this week.  We thank you not only for the life you gave us, but also for the opportunity you provided for that life to be full and beautiful.  We thank you for showing us the importance of giving…of loving.  And to the children who mourn this day, who grieve the loss of a mother’s love or perhaps simply have never known it…we pray this Mother’s Day that you will not lack peace, will not lack love, and you will be reminded that ultimately you are…we all are…sons and daughters of God.


This painting is 14/52 in the project 52 things of beauty, where each painting is given to someone who has a giving heart.  This one will go to a special mom on the Instagram page @52thingsofbeauty

Emily & Lauren

9-12/52 Giving God’s word

Paintings 9-12 in the 52 Things of Beauty went to my sweet friend and former KKG sister Emily. She wanted a little color to livin’ up her hallway. She picked a color palette that was super fun to work with! Then her handy dandy husband MADE these frames! Go Austin! I will share the link on my Instagram page @52thingsofbeauty with how he did it.  But now, Emily is going to tell us about the awesome way her family chose to give!
“For our gift, we chose to make a donation to Pioneer Bible Translators.  We recently had the opportunity to listen to the President of Pioneer speak at our local church, and we were so moved by the work this group is doing to reach the nations.  They say “We believe the single greatest way we can help a hurting world is to give them God’s word.” and that statement really resonated with us.
We were informed that there are still approximately 900 language groups that do not have scripture in their native tongue.  And because it takes so many resources to accurately translate scripture, it costs about $38/verse to do so.
Thus raising funds in something Pioneer is always working to do.  Pioneer is confident that if their organization is able to keep up their current pace, that there will be churches using Scripture in every language by 2050!   That is something that we were so excited to be a part of!  Sometimes we question how we are doing our part in the Great Commission– to make disciples of all nations–and this was a tangible way that we could get involved immediately. “
You can visit https://pioneerbible.org for more info. Thank you Bell family for teaching us another unique way to give!

7/52 Showing Nurses some Love!


DSC_1741This painting goes to my sweet friend Leah. Leah was one of my student workers when my husband and I lived in Auburn. I mean, look at her. How beautiful is she??? FullSizeRender.jpg We instantly bonded over our love for rap music and dancing. Plus, you can’t be around Leah without having a good time. These days, she’s all grown up and doing big things! She about to move to Detroit to take a great job at General Motors! Go Leah! I painted her a little something to spruce up her new place and she choose to pay it forward by giving to a group of Nurses at the DaVita Tuscaloosa Diaylsis Center. She made them these SUPER cute care packages filled with candy.

IMG_1006 Leah has a special place in her heart for nurses because it has been nurses that have been taking care of her mom while she’s been away at college. Leah’s mom, Doreen started getting sick when Leah was in the 5th grade. She’s currently doing dialysis and in the process of preparing for a kidney transplant from Leah’s brother. Shout out to bro! Talk about #giving! Anyway, Leah is from Brunswick, Georgia but went off to Auburn for college, it was hard for Leah not to be there with her mom when she was sick. She wanted to enjoy school but was torn with the feeling she wouldn’t be able to take care of her mom so far away. It gave her peace of mind to know that the nurses were not only taking care of her mom but they became some of her mom’s closest friends. It gave Leah the ability to enjoy college knowing her mom was in good hands. It gave Leah’s pretty momma, friendship through a difficult disease. I don’t know Leah’s mom, but I know she has to be pretty, freaking awesome for having a daughter like Leah, and a son willing to donate his own kidney. Please take a second to pray that all goes well with her transplant procedure!

I’m sure there are many stories like Leah’s out there.

So if you see a nurse, Thank them today! Give them a high five. Buy them a coffee or make them a cute care package like she did!  Because they work a job that is not about them. In fact, they work a job that gets very little praise some days.…  So here is to you nurses! Out there kickin’ it in your cool scrubs today! Thank you for doing your thing for others, putting smiles on faces, and taking care of mommas like Leah’s! Its not just the people that you take care of that are grateful, it is the people that love them too!

PS, I will be giving away this 24X24 painting below to a nurse on my Instagram page @52thingsofbeauty this week! I’ll post what you have to do to get it later today. Thanks Leah for choosing a deserving group of people to give to, and inspiring others to give!fullsizeoutput_278b

6/52 #AllinforJosh

Painting number 6 of 52 is SUPER special for several reasons. First, it is going to a great cause… the support of an awesome person from Arkansas, Josh Fohner. Second, I painted it for a friend, Kristi Malzahn who has taught me valuable things about what it means to be a coach’s wife.  My husband, Casey, worked for her husband, Coach Malzahn, for almost 7 years at Arkansas State and Auburn. Throughout that time, as you can imagine, all of the coaches’ wives got to know each other pretty well.  We jokingly call ourselves “sisterwives” because of the amount of time we spend with each other while our husbands are busy in season!  Kristi is known for being hilarious and outgoing, but over those years, it was the more quiet things that I got to see and most people don’t know about her.           fullsizeoutput_2719
If anybody was going through a hard time, Kristi was the first one there to provide support.  She has such a heart to serve and help others. She even helped me get this project started by donating to 52 Things of Beauty.  @52thingsofbeauty is a project close to my own heart, where I paint and then ask each recipient of my Art to give in a way that is special and meaningful to them.  Here is the painting I did of Kristi’s pond.  In turn, she chose to give to Josh.

I know Kristi well enough to know that she is going to hate that I am even talking about her in this way.  I can just hear her now interrupting me by saying, “Okay, enough about ME, this is about JOSH”.  Haha! So let me tell you about her friend, Joshua Fohner, and the way we can help support him! Josh played football in high school for Coach Malzahn at Springdale High School and has been in a biking accident.  Kristi describes him as the SWEETEST kid in the world. Josh’s story can be found at AllinforJosh.org.

According to the website, Tuesday morning, September 26th, Josh left his home in Buena Vista, Colorado for his usual early morning workout before going to work.  He rode his bike to the gym, and around 6:30 a.m., a jeep struck Josh while he was riding home.

Upon examination at the hospital, doctors realized, among a long list of other things, that he had sustained a massive head trauma and needed immediate surgery.  After surgery he was declared stable but in serious critical condition.

The good news is that he has been improving each and every day.  So much so, that he is going to be transported to Arkansas from Colorado which will allow his family the opportunity to be near him during his continued recovery.  I encourage you to read the letters from his family on his page. Their faith is INCREDIBLE!  His dad speaks on how he and Josh’s mom are getting through this difficult time, and his mom, Kelly, is quoted saying, “Over the past six months God has been faithful to provide a word, a phrase, a scripture verse, and many sweet moments to encourage us and bring us hope.”

As you can imagine, the cost of Josh’s care and transport is expensive.  Donations are being accepted, and to all Alabama friends, there is going to be a benefit this Monday, April 10, at the Odyssey Skate Center in Huntsville from 6-9pm to raise money for Josh and his family.  Please help if you can! Details are below and on the website!

 If you would like to help support Josh and his recovery, please use the following link. It will take you to a secure GoFundMe page designated for the Josh Fohner’s medical expenses. Thank you for your help!