My mother’s name is Lynley Simpson-Nielsen. It is hard to know where to start when describing the woman she is. Tomorrow is her last day of working in a church as a leader for 43 years and then she retires. For her it just means she does more things she wants to – which ironically may mean she keeps pastoring in some capacity.
I have watched her navigate horrendous situations both personally and professionally yet still manage to see both sides in every situation. In the past when I have been irate and honed in to specifics, she would show maturity and calmly consider the bigger picture. Maybe that is what made her a great leader, her ability to put aside her bias and ask the hard questions of others but especially of herself.
Have you ever heard the term ‘leading upwards’? The term often gets used when describing someone not quite empowered to make the final call but empowered enough to influence the decision makers. She is kind of like a christian version of a political lobbyist but in the kindest way and on issues that actually matter. It takes great skill to lead by influence. Anyone can make things happen if they’re powerful, but it takes intelligence and a high relational IQ to be a shaker and mover when flying low under the radar.
People would say she is consistent and measured but there has always been a fierce lion under her dignified grey hair that has fought for justice when no one was listening. She was forged in the fires of pain and challenge and has seen almost every battle life can deliver several times over. She doesn’t carry a sword that is covered in gems and hangs in a display cabinet, her sword is functional, razor sharp, regularly used and covered in a little blood – mostly her own.
Then she also lives with regrets, but instead of allowing them to crush her spirit she embraces those regrets and vulnerably wears them to remind her she is fallible, broken and human. That is what makes her strong – her willingness to hold her successes and failures in her palm offering it to broken people saying, “here I am – I’m just like you. Pick yourself up and walk with me a while and let me tell you a few stories.”
The church will miss her but she is ready to fill her life with other things. I suspect others will step up and do it even better than she did but only because my mother never held her ‘trade secrets’ to her chest. She shared her skill without restraint, allowed her passion to be viral and resisted the temptation to dominate or be dominated.
Very rarely will you find a leader like my mother. It is only on reflection that you will see her fingerprints on so many lives and so many projects because in the heat of the battle she didn’t yell from the mountain top of her successes, she just bloody well got the job done. While others are celebrating the wins, she is busy already eyeing off the next mountain to climb.
Rarely does a leader come along like my mother who has the ability to bypass the self-congratulatory fluff in order to pursue real change. Many leaders lead with their ego covering over their insecurities, resulting in unnecessary casualties along the way. She has demonstrated how to lead another way, a fresh way that builds people up.
Lynley Simpson-Neilsen, I honour you today as one of the great christian warriors who can pass the baton on with confidence because you used your gift to invest in others instead of making it all about you.
You are a class act that will be difficult to repeat.