Similar Pursuits

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On the outside, Garner Lesley was the girl everyone wanted to be in high school — beautiful, blonde and popular, with a boyfriend by her side and a bouquet of homecoming court roses in her arms. 

But on the inside, the teenager was broken. She partied on the weekends so she wouldn’t have to think about the pain and anger growing in her heart. And she spent a year doing everything she could to avoid Laura Timmons, a Young Life leader in Memphis, Tennessee, who knew Garner needed something more.

Garner used her busy social calendar to hide from Timmons, but she couldn’t hide from Jesus. He used Timmons to pursue the hurting teenager and draw her into a relationship with Him. And now, Garner is watching God work the same way in the lives of her young friends, healing familiar hurts with His infinite love.


A SLOW START

Garner first met Timmons her sophomore year at Germantown High School’s homecoming bonfire, the perfect setting for Timmons and her husband, Kevin (area director in Memphis), to meet new high school friends. Garner was on the homecoming court, giving Timmons an easy opening to introduce herself.

“I just thought they were random people introducing themselves to me,” Garner said. “All I was concerned about was what party I was going to go to that weekend. I didn’t really want anything to do with her. But it always stuck with me. I couldn’t help but wonder: Who are they? Why are they here? What do they want with me?”

While Garner blew off their first encounter — and many others after that — Timmons persisted; she had something bigger in mind.

“I was excited to have a chance to interact with her and learn her name,” Timmons said. “After that I prayed for the chance to get to know her, and I started looking for ways that I’d get to see her again.”

Garner readily admits she spent most of her sophomore year avoiding Timmons “at all costs.” But Timmons continued to pursue Garner, and finally, on Halloween night her junior year, Garner attended her first club. 

There, Garner said, the leaders “talked about Jesus in a way I had never heard before that actually made sense to me.” That night, she signed up for Winter Camp at Windy Gap in North Carolina, and also started attending Campaigners every week at Timmons’ house. 

It was the answer to Timmons’ prayers.

She said, “Garner loved Campaigners; she loved sharing her life and being open and honest. Winter Camp was rough because she had broken up with her boyfriend and was in a needy place, but it was that weekend that she really saw her need to follow Jesus.”

“God used Laura that weekend as a support system to me,” Garner said. “She held me when I cried, she reassured me that she’d be there every step of the way as we went home and continued to help me grow in my relationship with Christ.”


SOMETHING DIFFERENT

While grateful for her transformed heart, Garner said the everyday life of high school was hard. She still struggled with her old lifestyle, but remembers the moment she decided she was ready to give everything over to Jesus.

“The beginning of my senior year, the leaders had a meeting where they gave us a vision for impacting the school for Jesus,” Garner said. “The things they described sounded more fulfilling and exciting than the things I had been holding on to.

“I decided to stop my old ways and the typical high school life. I lost friends over it, but I wanted something different. I felt the Lord calling me to reach out. I wanted to try to open up my friends’ hearts as well. I watched the Lord strengthen and mold me into something completely different than I was.”

Timmons said Garner stepped up as a leader to her peers in ways she never imagined. And their relationship continued to grow and deepen. 

Garner decided to attend the University of Memphis after graduation, and there, her pursuit of “something different” continued. She went through Young Life leadership training that fall and, in a step of faith, requested a school that would challenge and stretch her.

“I’ve always been in a suburban school around the same types of people,” Garner explained. “I wanted to be outside my comfort zone. I wanted the Lord to show me what I’m made of and really use me in a community.”

After much prayer and conversation, Garner was placed as a volunteer leader in Central High School, an urban high school located in midtown Memphis.


CONSISTENT AND PERSISTENT

While it has had its challenges, Garner said she has more in common with her high school friends than it might appear.

“It was hard with the girls at the beginning,” Garner said. “They were very skeptical about if I would stick it out or even try to get to know them. But I wasn’t very trusting in high school either.

“I see all that Laura was able to accomplish with me, with how hard my heart was and how I was always rude and pushing her away. But she continued to pursue me. A lot of my girls are the same way I was. Laura was consistent and persistent with me, and I want to be that way with them. Because girls are girls; we share the same problems, just different scenery.”

This past summer, Garner and other Central leaders took 18 girls to SharpTop Cove, a Young Life camp in Georgia. Lesley calls it “one of the most challenging experiences of my life.”

“The first night of camp, I told the girls everything about my life. I wanted to be real and honest with them so that they would feel comfortable being real and honest with me,” Garner said. “Once upon a time, I was a hardened teenage girl going through boyfriend struggles with crazy parents. It was intimidating and scary to share, but I saw the walls completely break down. It got the wheels turning. Even their silence was enough to know they heard me.”

Timmons said watching Garner, now a college sophomore, obediently follow the Lord has been a huge blessing, and a beautiful reminder that nothing — and no one — is too difficult for God.

“I’m so impressed with how well Garner understands the mission of Young Life and how much she wants to share her story, because she knows Jesus has changed her,” Timmons said. “It’s been really fulfilling to see it unfold. I think the message is, don’t ever overlook a kid and think they aren’t interested. You never know how the Lord is going to speak to someone’s heart and how they will respond. No one is too far out for Jesus to step in and heal all of the broken places.”

Garner said her love and gratitude for Timmons and how she pursued her has only grown as her own ministry begins. And Garner wants to continue the pursuit — both of Christ and of relationships with those hard to love who need Him most.

“I called Laura from camp one night overwhelmed, just thanking her for putting up with me,” Garner said. “If I could have a relationship with just one other girl like mine is with Laura, it’d be worth it. 

“It looks different everywhere, but Young Life is about meeting kids where they are. The Lord is going to do the rest. We are just the vessels He uses. He’s the one who softens their hearts.”

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