The Difference One Life Makes

Recently, I was asked to give remarks at a retirement dinner for Frances Ford of Perry County, an extraordinary person whose passion to rebuild healthcare in Perry County has inspired thousands of people from around the nation who came to help. In 2016, Frances was inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame. Permit me to quote that article:

Citing her faith in God and the influence of her parents, Ford said she is guided by the principles of “giving back, helping others, and [showing] the love of Christ”. Throughout her career, Ford has followed a deep calling to make a difference in her spheres of influence. A graduate of Judson College (B.S.) and the Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing (R.N.) at Samford University, Ford devoted her nursing career to serving her neighbors in the Black Belt region of Alabama…In 1999, Ford accepted the position of Health Care Coordinator for Perry County in order to begin rebuilding healthcare infrastructure in the community after the closure of the County’s hospital in the same year. Supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Ford coordinated projects to increase the number of healthcare professionals, expand the services of outpatient clinics, and remove regulatory barriers that inhibited the delivery of healthcare services in rural and medically-underserved parts of the state.

Her efforts influenced state and federal officials to establish a primary care center in Marion and to revise regulations that prohibited End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) facilities from operating in areas more than 10 miles from a hospital. This change, which Ford accomplished through her involvement with the Governor’s Black Belt Action Committee, allowed for the establishment of the Davita Dialysis Center in Marion, eliminating a 40-mile drive two to three times per week for more than 50 dialysis patients in Perry County.

Ford also developed and led an initiative to connect children in Perry County with health insurance programs, which accomplished a ten-fold increase in their coverage. This initiative was incorporated into the work of Sowing Seeds of Hope, which Ford joined in 2005 as Executive Director.

Makes you feel lazy, doesn’t it? I was honored to share remarks for her, a true Alabama saint. I share them with you here.

Frances, so many eloquent things have already been said about you and I tried to think what I could add to that. I am here merely to bless you. You have made such a difference in this state and in your community. You have changed the well-being of so many. As a pastor I have watched as you answered the call and stepped forward to do such extraordinary work for the people of Perry County, and in the process changed the lives of all whom you invited to join with you.

Permit me a small vanity as my blessing. At the Baptist state convention in the mid-1990s, I went with as group from my church. Arthur Weeks, a retired Samford law school dean and elegant gentleman and his wife, Carol, were among those going.It was early in my ministry, so we were just getting to know one another. We were remonstrating about the political chicanery in our state convention at the time and Arthur was telling a story. And in the story, he said, “And  I said, “Well, hell…” and couldn’t finish the story. His shocked wife was horrified to hear him swear in front of their new pastor and she blurted, “ARTHUR!”

He matter-of-factly turned to her and said, “Why, Carol, I’m just quoting myself.” So for my blessing I’m going to quote myself here in just a moment.

The very first time I was with Frances was many years ago. We were traveling to the Alabama State convention meeting together in Huntsville, early on, probably nearly two decades or more ago. But we were riding in our church bus and one lady on the bus from my church was famous for her hysterial laugh, which was easy to start and hard to stop. And I told Frances that I bet her I could get her to laugh 20 times before we got to Huntsville. It was over 25 by the time we got there. We had a grand time, she was fun to be with, but I came to know that gentle spirit, good heart and great spirit. I had no idea who I was sitting with. Only later I saw the impact that she had. I saw the measure of her life both in Perry County and everyone who visited there.

And through the years, as we were part of the arts camp there and many other efforts, I would see my members come back changed by what they experienced and by the impact that her work was having on the people there. You made difference to me. You have made a difference to the people here, your family.

You loved your community, and you love your neighbors and you love the land that you live on and invested yourself in a way that has changed them all. We will never be the same. Thank you.

So now I’m going to quote myself. This is a song lyric that I wrote back during the pandemic. I was inspired by thinking about Saint Paul’s tendency in every letter he wrote to say, “I thank God every time I think about you.” It seems perfect.  Frances, we thank God every time we think about you and the difference that you have made. Here are the words that I wrote and they are for you. 

Every Time I Think of You

Gary Allison Furr  (for all who every prayed for me)

I tried to fly above the angels with nothing but self-centeredness

But I only found the way to heaven from wandering in the wilderness

I took this road a long time ago without knowing where it went

when I thought I’d lost my way, I felt the prayers you sent

I thank God when I think of you, You are a gift to me

Of faithfulness and hope and love and generosity

For all my sins and weaknesses I now feel gratitude

Without them I might never have known how much I needed you.

When fear and anger silence truth, and mercy is ridiculed as weak,

I remember you still pray for me And I find my voice and speak. 

I thank God when I think of you, You are a gift to me

(these lyrics appear in Gary Allison Furr, Shadow Prayers: Reflections from a Pandemic Year, Parsons Porch, 2021, p. 172.)  A recording of the song can be heard at

Setting the Prisoner Free…

I have come to know Hector Guadalupe through our daughter, first as a cause she believed in and now as part of our family. Hector has an extraordinary story, coming from the rough streets of Brooklyn and the world of gangs and drugs to incarceration in his twenties, to trying to create an adult life after that.  It is an extraordinary story of his overcoming that world, but also a remarkable program he has created to help others coming from similar stories.

It is a familiar story, all too familiar. The “war on drugs” is, it turns out, like so many wars that begin with apparent good intentions. It ended up incarcerating millions of young people, predominantly young men, and disproportionately the poor and minorities. The laws tended to punish more severely those who did not have the wherewithal to afford and negotiate the system. When people go to prison, sadly, they lose everything. And when they return, it is all too common that they lose hope.

I have worked with many people who have gone to jail or prison through the years—both church members (in every church I have served, I might add), and members of the community. The stigma of felony records strips away voting rights, employability, and social connection. So how then do we propose that people lead a productive life that is good for society?

If you have ever walked through the criminal justice system yourself or with someone, you already know what a boulder it lays on the shoulders of a person who made a wrong choice. Hector’s story, though, is not a rehearsal of those obstacles. He created an amazing organization, Second U, to train the formerly incarcerated to return to productive citizenship and life. This weekend, CNN is running his story as a part of its CNN Heroes series. Hector trains young men and women to become, like he did, personal trainers, have their own businesses and reestablish themselves in normal life.

You may view the story here. I encourage you to watch it. It’s short, but inspiring.

CNN Heroes: Hector Guadalupe

Years ago, I went to the prison here in Alabama where inmates are held just before release to meet with and help a man who had been writing me from prison to ask my help in returning to life. He’d served a one-year sentence and would soon receive a bus ticket and a small sum of cash as he left. For the next months and years, I, and several of our church members, served as guides and encouragers as he put his life back together. There were ups, downs, and stumbles along the way, but he did it. At that time, I remember thinking, “If every church in Alabama helped an inmate return to life, what would that do?” I still think about that. A lot. The people in prison are, first, people, from families, made in the image of God.

Of late I have worked along with the organization Faith in Action Alabama to advocate for a less onerous process of helping former inmates restore their voting rights. This made it to the House as SB 118. Sen. Jabo Waggoner was helpful to us in this process. If you can’t get a job, can’t vote, can’t rebuild your life, and give hack after you’ve paid your debt, how will you stay away from darker options?

I hope you will watch Hector’s story and think about the 25,000 + human beings currently held in our state system designed for 12,000 and ask yourself, “What can we do better for us all”” Yes, there are people whose crimes merit being removed from society, but many of these can be returned to life. The government and the prison system cannot do it all. It takes the former prisoner with a will to restore themselves and make amends, a community willing to welcome them back and a faith community that keeps sounding its own message, “There is a second chance.”

If you are interested in knowing more about SecondU foundation or contributing, go to

Helping Alabama’s Children

Alabama Coalition for Healthy Mothers and Children
This Giving Tuesday, consider making a small donation to help mothers and children in Alabama receive the help they need to live happy, healthy lives. Our website and app are designed to provide information and access to food banks, diaper banks, clothes, and other vital resources. Join us in su
pporting the women and children of Alabama.

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EVERY dollar will go to the work of spreading our effort to connect all faith-based and public organizations help give easier access to information and help to the public so that we may improve the health of Alabama’s children and empower Moms and Dads too to give their children a strong future! In 2020 we will be rolling out our app to the public, expanding our resource listings and funding our ongoing IT costs to make this resource available to EVERYONE!   visit us at

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Someplace Green

Looking out from my office desk, to someplace green.

My friend Pat Terry is one of my favorite singer-songwriters, ever.  After a long and successful career in contemporary Christian music, he widened his vision and writing. A successful career in country music as a writer followed, with plenty of hits. He just came out with his latest CD, “How Hard It Is to Fly,” and it’s another great batch of songs.  One of my newest favorites, “Clean Starched Sheets” is on this one.

Pat’s heart has always been as a storytelling songwriter.  I have been in a couple of his workshops, and he is a master craftsman. I’ve performed with him a time or two here in Birmingham, and I’ve gone more than once to hear him sing. His songs are deeply human.  One of my favorites and one of the first I ever heard him perform (while opening for Earl Scruggs!) was “Someplace Green.” It sends me to visions of Eden.

Back in my hometown, everything’s green,

green grass, green leaves, green peaches on the trees in spring. Continue reading Someplace Green

Lenten Speaker Series Continues: Kate Campbell

Last evening, we kicked off our series, “The Callings That Find Us,” with Dr. Danny Potts.  An overflow crowd filled the room and was not disappointed as he shared his personal journey with brokenness and new life through his father’s long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  It was inspiring and so helpful to all who were there.

Next Wednesday we welcome folksinger Kate Campbell. Kate is a favorite singer-songwriter for many.  She is a storyteller and singer with a unique voicrockcitye that blends faith, justice and humanity in her writing and singing.  Growing up in the south as the daughter of a Baptist preacher, Kate’s formative years were spent in the very core of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s, and those years left a mark on her.  

Her Two Nights in Texas CD received the prestigious Mississippi Institute of Arts & Letters Award. Ballet Memphis featured several tunes from her song catalog as well as a live performance by Kate and band at a ballet entitled South Of Everywhere. Three of Kate’s songs (“Ave Maria Grotto,” “William’s Vision,” and “Fordlandia”) were recently featured in documentary films.  A variety of artists have recorded Campbell’s songs including Laurie Lewis, Missy Raines, Ronnie McDowell, and the Nashville Bluegrass Band who covered her compelling snake-handling song “Signs Following.”

Campbell has played the prestigious Cambridge Folk Festival (England), Merlefest, Philadelphia Folk Festival, and Port Fairy Folk Festival (Australia), been featured on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Live From Mountain Stage, and had her story (and haunting song “When Panthers Roamed In Arkansas”) included in the debut issue of The Oxford American’s ultra-hip Southern Music series. Kate’s latest release Damn Sure Blue, a heart-felt collection of tunes that pays a respectful nod of admiration to the Man in Black and reverberates with the soulful sounds of award-winning Americana guitar whiz and producer Will Kimbrough.

Kate lives in Nashville with her husband, Ira, a minister a

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