For those of you who don’t know dad from his child rearing years, I’m Matt, his 6th and uncontested “most difficult” teen. For those of you who knew ME during that time, I apologize for the likely shock of seeing me up here…but I’m honored to speak a few words about our beloved father, husband, brother, grandpa and dear friend.
When you have 8 children, it’s inevitable that your life’s story will be written by 8 distinctly different authors, with 8 strikingly different experiences. As the 6th of those 8 authors, the singular story I would tell may not even resemble the story of my oldest sibling Eric, for example, who was born in a different decade, who is the only one of us who briefly experienced life as an only child and whose father started out much younger than the one I knew. This variation came through as the 5 brothers all gathered around several dozen of dad’s neck ties and looked for a tie to wear today, the one that was “just right” and most reminded us of dad. While the florescent pink & green tie from the 70’s that Eric is wearing today has long been the signature “dad” tie, each of us found our way to a different tie that reminded us of our own personal version of the man we all called “DAD”. So rather than tell you my story alone, I asked each of my siblings to share a glimpse of their version of his story, to paint a much fuller picture of a life we all loved and of a man we all revered and felt honored to have as our father.
I won’t go in order…it’ll keep my siblings from dozing off if they don’t know exactly when I’m going to misquote them.
It is a joy to be in a family full of so much love for each other. I can’t really remember a time when it wasn’t that way. When I asked my sister Laurie to share how she felt dad impacted our family, she recounted how important it was to him that we PRAY together. This immediately brought back joyful, tender memories of our usually irreverent attempts to hold family prayer each evening. Mom & Dad created a tradition of kneeling in a family circle, arms locked around one another, while one person would offer a prayer. This typically led to tickling, giggling and EVENTUALLY praying, while most of us did our very best to keep from cracking up before we all said “amen”. I can’t think of a better tribute to anyone than of someone who helped foster an environment of joyful prayer. Whenever we pray together, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
Anyone who knows dad, knows that his family was extremely important to him. When my brother Jeff shared his memories of dad emphasizing the importance of having Family Home Evening every Monday night, it was followed with the footnote that “they certainly weren’t perfect at it, but they tried their best…enough for us to know that it was important to them”. Not unlike family prayer, our version of family home evening was usually chaotic, but at its core, created a love for music, of spending time together as a family, of sharing our feelings about the Lord’s gospel teachings…and most importantly (at least at the time), our love for Nerdin chocolate chip cookies…a recipe that’s still alive and well in his grandson Kosmo’s cookie business. Whenever we have our own family home evenings, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
My sister Jamee recalled, as was highlighted in the opening of his obituary, that dad truly was a master teacher, but made the distinction that while he may have been a GOOD teacher at school, at church, he was a GREAT teacher. One of the highlights of our adult lives, whenever visiting mom and dad, was attending gospel doctrine class at church when dad was serving as the teacher. He was a man who believed that learning was a lifelong pursuit. He studied and knew the scriptures so well and LOVED sharing what he learned with others…and his patience with those who struggled with the subject of study made him even more endearing. Whenever we study the gospel or otherwise, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
Our family lived in the town of Moro for 6 years. During this time, we lived almost 45 minutes from The Dalles where we attended church. My brother Robb reminded me of dear Sister Moody, a widowed and wheelchair bound member of our congregation who lived in Moro during those years. Dad’s demonstration of SERVICE finds no better example than that of Sister Moody. Whether scooping her up like one of his young children and carrying her to the car so that she could attend church with us…or prompting us children to take care of her husband’s headstone at the cemetery…or just checking in on her on our way home from school, our entire family came to love Sister Moody like a member of our own family, and the chores that we performed on her behalf rarely felt like work. The example of living a life of service that our father set, an example that I would bet has touched nearly every person in attendance here today, has shaped the lives of all of his children for the better. As we continue to look for opportunities to serve others, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
For those of you familiar with the Mormon or Latter-day Saint religion, you’ll know that one of the things that stands out is how enthusiastic we often are to share how much we love our religion. My brother Eric recalled how much of an example of that zest for sharing this message our father AND our mother were. They spent a significant portion of their retirement years…years that are “supposed to” be for relaxing and having fun…instead living in faraway places with the sole purpose of sharing with others the joy that a Christ-centered life brought to them and their family. They would write regular “epistles” to their family while on their many missions, sharing their love of their new friends, wards and families, wherever they were serving. As their children, we couldn’t ask for a better example. So, whenever we find occasion to share our love of the gospel with others in our lives, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
When I asked my brother Keith how he remembered dad, he shared his observation that dad seemed to find extreme enjoyment in being in the right place, at the right time, with the people he loved most, and that few things seemed to bring him as much joy as simply sitting in a priesthood session of stake conference with his boys all lined up on a bench…or attending a temple session with his wife. I can recall countless instances of seeing the tender side of my dad in these moments, where his emotions were often much closer to the surface. He was a man of strong convictions who loved his choices. As we all strive to choose the right, and STAND for what’s right, we’ll always be thinking of you dad.
As you heard a few moments ago, we moved around a fair amount throughout our childhood. My sister Julie is old enough to recognize a pattern in that cycle…a pattern of involving the Lord as we make life’s tough decisions. Dad loved challenges, and when he no longer felt challenged, he was usually ready to move on to the next challenge. But he loved his family and never made big decisions, like moving his family, without a lot of fasting and prayer. He didn’t always get a clear answer, and would sometimes move his family without knowing exactly WHY he felt it was right to move them off into some unheard-of (and often reportedly forsaken) corner of Oregon, but he always had faith that because he had included the Lord in that decision, that it was the RIGHT decision. He may not have known at the time, but as Julie concluded, we believe that Dad NOW knows. He taught his children, by example, that if you draw near unto the Lord, the Lord will draw near unto you. As we strive to follow that example and increase our faith, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
Not to exclude the other central figure in all of our lives, and more importantly, in our dad’s life, I asked mom this same question and she recounted how much dad loved his church callings…in particular, he loved being on the high council, which allowed him to speak in different wards and get to know lots of different people in their various stakes. I remember as a young boy, living in Moro, how excited I was when one Sunday, my dad invited me…just me…to go along with him on a speaking assignment (I think he might have even had me get up and say a couple words). I always loved to hear my dad speak. He had a way of making stories come alive…and making just about any topic interesting. For those here not of our faith…a “calling” can best be described as a non-paying job…at church…that you don’t get to choose. In other words, all callings aren’t “fun”…but our father taught us to embrace and accept ANY calling and to do it to the absolute best of your ability. So, as each of us undoubtedly faces current and future callings that will test our resolve…and we try our best to embrace them, we’ll be thinking of you dad.
And, as for me, my story with my dad has been one not unlike that of the prodigal son. This is perhaps my favorite story in all of the scriptures, because I can’t read it without thinking of my dad…to ME, my dad’s story is one of forgiveness. He was not a perfect man…none of us are…but along with everything else, he was also humble and loving. Nearly every conflict I ever had with my father, ended with him, at some point, coming into my room, putting his arm around me, expressing his love for me and kneeling in prayer, just the two of us, while HE asked for forgiveness for his shortcomings as a parent and sharing HIS gratitude for the opportunity to be MY father, in most cases following episodes where I, the prodigal son, was the cause of the conflict. As a father now to my own 4 children, I am also not perfect, but I like to think that because of his example of humility and compassion, I am a better father than I would have been were it not for such a Christ-like example. There is no wrong that I have done that he has not freely forgiven…and there have been many. So as I do my best to live, and forgive and parent in a way that he would be proud of, I’ll be forever thinking of you dad.
If you piece all of these chapters together into a single story, you clearly see that it’s one of a man who LIVED the motto of our many family camping trips…you ALWAYS leave it better than you found it. James Thomas Nerdin is a man who, through his hard work, his selfless service, his unwavering priorities and convictions…his absolute and unconditional love of his eternal family…truly left the world a better place than he found it.
Dad…today we are sad, because we miss you. But, because of your example of faith, we will look forward…forward to that day when we will see you again. And we will do our best to think of you and follow your example in all that we do. We love you, and we close in the name of the Savior who you loved so dearly, even Jesus Christ, amen.