Please Help Get This Book Published
When I was eleven years old, I started writing a book. Like most eleven-year-old boys, I lost interest, put the draft away, and lost track of it. But the desire to write a book lingered in the back of my mind. In 1999 I began writing another book, but daily life took over and that one also fell by the wayside.
Finally, in February 2018 I sat down and began writing the leadership book that had been on my heart for years. With the support and mentorship of a friend, I was able to write Practical Leadership: Lessons from an Average Leader. I spent hours writing, editing, rewriting, and having the book read by others to get critical feedback. I am very happy with this book. I am excited because I believe leaders will be able to improve their craft by reading this book and internalizing the lessons within. My goal is to get the book published early in the new year.
One thing I did not know when I began this process was how expensive it is to publish a book. This is where you come in. With your help, this book will see the light of day. Please join me on this journey by giving whatever you can to help with the cost of editing and publishing this book.
To say thank you for your donation, we have created incentive levels ranging from Copper, which is for $25 donations to Agape, our highest level of a $5000 donation. Each level has varying incentives of appreciation. However, donations of any amount will be greatly appreciated.
Any funds raised above what is needed to publish this book will be used for Agape Leaders or donated to four different scholarship funds: the Jang-Kim Scholarship, the Juanita Mays Scholarship, the Miss Lakeland Scholarship Competition, and the Miss Florida Outstanding Teen Scholarship Competition.
Again, thank you for taking the time to read this and seriously consider donating to this project. Click here to Donate today!
Meet Zachary Gilmore
This month’s guest writer is Zachary Gilmore. He and Dr. Mays attend The Rock Community Church (TRCC) in Lakeland, FL. They have had several opportunities to join together in ministry. For those who have known him for years, it has been a joy to watch Zach step out of his comfort zone time and time again to do whatever ministry God is calling him to do.
Zach is a graduate of Florida State University. He currently works with Parker Street Ministries. He also volunteers with the TRCC youth ministry, and he is a member of the TRCC sound team.
If you want to experience Zach’s passion for creating, head over to Instagram and search Outrageously Big Z (@outrageouslybigz). We are certain that you will be amazed at his talent.
We are overjoyed to have Zachary Gilmore write this month’s featured article in Agape Letters.
Loneliness is best felt in a crowd of people. “Best felt” being a bit facetious. In terms of the “best” way to feel such a negative emotion, the “worst” might be considered it’s “best.” In my personal experience, loneliness feels less like being stranded on an island with no humans in sight and more like riding a bicycle on the highway. Once loneliness leeches itself into my heart, I feel like I’ve become un-equipped for their journey of life.
Ironically, people struggling with loneliness aren’t alone. The UK has gone as far to create a Minister of Loneliness to tackle this isolation epidemic among its citizens. Research has shown that up to a fifth of UK citizens and nearly a fourth of all US citizens had claimed to be lonely most of, if not all, the time. Loneliness has been shown to dramatically decrease the life expectancy of a person and often leads to negative health habits such as smoking and drinking; an escape from the crippling feeling of lost human connection.
Many studies have pointed to loneliness triggering a natural instinct to flood our bodies with anxiety. Back in our hunter-gatherer days, our tribe, or community, was necessary to our survival. When isolated, fight or flight would kick in to help remove us from the danger. These days, advancements in technology and society have made small tribes obsolete, but that instinct to escape isolation persists. Frankly, a lot of people don’t know what to do about it.
One Sunday, my pastor spoke on the story in Exodus when The Great I AM spoke to Moses through a burning bush. “I will be with you.” This was peak quarantine, so the concept of “with-ness” was such a passionate desire. I prayed for the LORD to be with me. I prayed for people who would be with me. I even ordered and read the book With by Skye Jethani.
Throughout my life, the combination of being an introvert and having deeply rooted social anxiety has made feeling like I am “with” people difficult. I may be around people all day, but rarely do I feel like I’m with them. I always find myself sitting between two conversations at a table, not a part of either of them, and simply listening to both (this isn’t a metaphor, this happens all the time). People have their own lives and I seldom feel I have enough of one to justify interrupting their’s. My bicycle will just slow their cars down.
Loneliness creates the perfect defense for itself. It’s a monstrous self-sustaining echo chamber. What starts out as a simple desire for intimacy festers into a fear of human beings. That natural anxiety needs a cause. After a while, we cease to be satisfied with the notion that someone forgot to reach out and we begin to wonder if there is a deeper, more malicious reason for the lack of intimacy finding its way to us. This corrupt curiosity often has lasting effects. I will still, to this day, stare at a text I have typed out to a close friend, wondering if our friendship is genuine or some elaborate act of pity. Once caught in the loneliness vacuum, separated from the love of others, you quickly start to lose compassion for yourself. You need someone to blame. How do you think this might affect, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”?
When it’s difficult to find “with-ness” with people, community becomes a burden more than a blessing. Going to church would often just become a spiritual rest stop: I would relieve what I’d been holding in and maybe try to request something from the cosmic vending machine to keep me sustained for the road ahead (sometimes the cosmic vending machine wouldn’t accept my dollar bill, so I’d just try to straighten out that prayer request and try it again). No moment did I receive more conviction than a time I had a vision about entering a tent to find it filled with the presence of the LORD. I dropped my heavy bag of burdens at His feet, started to make my way back into the world and He asked, “Aren’t you going to stay for a while?”
Why wasn’t that my natural instinct? Did I really think I was just being used by Him for some greater purpose that the Creator of the Cosmos had no interest in my presence? This broken understanding of people had washed over into my understanding of God.
It is, unsurprisingly, hard to hear the LORD’s voice while sailing through the sea of loneliness. I have read, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” as justification to sideline human connection in favor of complete intimacy with God, but then Jesus follows with: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) These two commandments cannot happen separately. Living in communion with the Creator, means living in communion with His people. Jesus even says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.” (Matthew 18:20)
In Henri J.M. Nouwen’s In the Name of Jesus, he notes that despite decades of speaking and teaching, he had realized most of his theological career was done
independently. He would speak alone, teach alone, and usually plan these engagements himself. Independence is a virtue these days. Self-sufficiency gives you control over your own success. However, at a speaking event in Washington D.C. he had brought along a co-speaker from a community for those with mental disabilities at which he had been serving as a priest. His co-speaker would parrot talking points and insert his own commentary, which lightened the mood. In the moment, it reminded him that Jesus sent his disciples two by two (Mark 6:7). Nouwen noticed that speaking with another person took his control over the situation, but created something else in its place: intimacy.
In the Creation story, the Creator of the Universe says, “It is not good for man to be alone…” (Genesis 2:18). The loneliness in me wants to point out that things quickly went downhill after that, but God responds differently. The Creator gave humans independence and community influence, things got messy, and the ultimate fix was not to take control of humanity; it was to put Himself with us in the form of Jesus.
A lot of loneliness is rooted in trauma and fear of the messiness of human relationships. There are absolutely relationships that people should cut themselves free from, but to cut out Relationship from your life will bury you in another unfortunate pit. You can’t control human interaction, but that’s part of the beauty of it. Only then can the true intimacy of human connection and the relationship with our Father in Heaven be fully realized. After all: loneliness can’t be solved by yourself.
With by Skye Jethani
In the Name of Jesus by Henri J. M. Nouwen
Do an internet search and you will find several definitions for the word “Agape.” According to one site, Agape is a Greco-Christian term referring to love, "the highest form of love, charity" and "the love of God for man and of man for God". This is the definition that we use at Agape Leaders for the way we mean agape. In our lives, many of us long to receive a “love letter” from that special someone. You are our special someone, therefore we are sending you our “Agape Letter,” our love letter to you.