Paints the Sky" is an incredible love story cut short by
unexpected tragedy but restored in keeping with God's enduring
faithfulness. The book, and musician Danny Oertli's accompanying
album, "Everything in Between," share insights about
trusting God in times of complete despair, searching for hope
admist debilitating grief, and pressing forward to establish a
new beginning. Read an excerpt from his book below.
The week following Cyndi’s death I had felt like I was
hiking in a deep wood shrouded by dense fog, waiting for the sun
to break a hole in the mist and illuminate a path out of the darkness.
When God led me to the mountaintop near Cyndi’s childhood
home and spoke of heaven, I felt the first ray of light pierce
my pain. But the road to healing would take much longer than one
For nearly a month, I did little more than sit in the living
room while the kids played on the floor, my mind thousands of
miles away. I wanted to connect, but was not able to.
My aunt, Ruthie, continued to train missionaries for The Navigators
organization during the day. At night and on weekends, she put
her personal life on hold and stayed at the house, diligently
cleaning many of the messes the kids and I had made as well as
organizing anything that may have been out of place. This was
everything: school papers, sympathy cards, and mail to name a
few. Most importantly, she took time to love the children.
Each night, she would dress in brightly colored African robes,
as she had for many years as a missionary in Kenya. Gently, she
would lay down with the children and tell them stories of God’s
faithfulness until the day’s activities caught up with them
and they drifted off to sleep. Her presence in our home provided
clear stability for their confused little hearts, and God used
her to minister to them in a way only a woman could.
“Ruthie, I can’t tell you how grateful I am that
you’ve been so willing to help me and the kids,” I
told her one night. “We are truly thankful. But, I know
you have a life back in Colorado Springs. Maybe it’s time
for you to get back to that life. We’ll be okay here.”
Though I said it, I seriously doubted that were true.
Ruthie looked away. “You know I’ve never had children,”
she said, her eyes welling with tears. “I believe God has
allowed me the privilege of mothering Gracie and Jack in my old
As if to say This conversation is over, she rose to
leave. “You’re not going to get rid of me that easily,”
she said over her shoulder.
With her quick mind and devotion to God, Ruthie was a blessing
not only to Grace and Jack, but to me as well. As the burden of
grief became one I needed to share, Ruthie was present to listen.
Most nights after the kids were asleep, we talked by the light
of the fireplace in the family room. For nearly fifteen years,
I had processed my thoughts and emotions by talking with Cyndi.
Now that Cyndi was gone I felt stifled, bottled up. I wanted to
share with someone all that was happening in my heart and mind.
Ruthie’s presence provided a much-needed transition in my
life, helping me to practice sharing my deepest thoughts and feelings
with people other than Cyndi.
During those early months, God created an amazing support group
for the kids and me. Like Ruthie, my parents were constantly around
the house. Tireless servants, they cared for the children that
first year more than anyone else did, including myself. Second
only to my mom’s belief that food heals was her conviction
that children need to be held. Whenever a problem arose, big or
small, Gramma held the kids on her lap until the difficulty blew
over. Strangely, that usually seemed to work.
My dad—or as Gracie liked to called him, “Crappa
Jay”—helped me transition into running the business
side of my music ministry, something Cyndi had always handled.
Though I had performed concerts for years, I knew little about
the office work that was done at home. Like Sherlock Holmes and
his trusty sidekick Watson, my dad and I sifted through the computer
files making notes until we were able to figure out Cyndi’s
systems of organization and accounting.
Most mornings, I would wake to find the kids dressed and ready
for the day, my mom standing in the kitchen talking with Ruthie
while my dad tried for the hundredth time to form a pancake into
the shape of Mickey Mouse.
My sister’s family lived less than a mile away and Grace
and Jack spent many afternoons playing in the yard with their
cousins. My high school basketball buddy and faithful friend Craig
Rants also ministered to us by doing household chores and helping
me to regain my smile through spirited games of ping-pong.
Cyndi’s close friend Kate McRostie, an accomplished interior
designer and artist, redecorated much of the house and chose new
colors for each bedroom. Though it was difficult to change things
that Cyndi had done, embracing the colors of a new world was for
us an important step toward healing.
Big Dave remained connected by spending the night at our house
very Monday night after his seminary class. Like me, Dave processed
his thoughts verbally, and we often talked until the early hours
of the morning.On many of those Mondays, Ryan made the long trek
from his house in the mountains to join us, and I would awake
the next morning to find the two of them asleep on the couches
in the family room.
The long process of healing had begun. In some ways, I felt guilty.
Many people who had lost a spouse or loved one were not blessed
with a support system like the one that had developed around me.
The Lord continually reminded me to remain grateful and to use
this time to heal. I did my best, knowing that grieving now would
make me a more effective and loving father in the future.
Leafing through the messages on my desk one night, I came across
the name of Fran Sciacca. At the Christian High School in Colorado
Springs that Cyndi and I had attended, Fran had been our Bible
teacher. Since that time, he had moved to Birmingham to teach
at another Christian School. After hearing about Cyndi’s
death, Fran had called to say that he was praying for my family
and me. On a whim, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.
After nearly an hour, I put down the phone and looked out the
window into the darkness with a smile on my face.
What a wonderful, godly man.
Fran had great insight into people, but more importantly, Fran
knew Scripture. As we continued to talk by phone each week, Fran
carefully redirected my attention from secular wisdom to examples
of faith and trust found in the Bible. He was concerned that I
look to God and not to man for healing and understanding. It was
Fran who showed me God’s roadmap to healing found in Isaiah
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the
chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set
the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share
your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with
shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not
to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light
will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly
appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the
glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call,
and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will
say: Here am I. . . . The LORD will guide you always; he will
satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen
your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring
whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient
ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations.
The language of this passage was so poetic and compelling, I
felt as if God were speaking directly to me. It is easy to get
caught up in the whirlpool of self-absorption and self-pity, and
I had allowed myself to swim in those dangerous waters. Through
Fran and Isaiah, God was teaching me to take my eyes off myself
and focus on others. It would be a hard-fought battle, as everything
in me wanted to pull back from people and wallow in suffering.
During those early weeks, Ruthie brought home a devotional book
by Joni Eareckson Tada, called Heaven: Your Real Home.
I soon found myself fervently praying for the Lord’s return
almost hourly. I became consumed with thoughts of heaven and Jesus.
Though I still ached with pain, God had begun to fill the void
in my spirit with a desire to know Him more. I read most of the
Christian books I could get my hands on and listened to sermons
on tape while driving in the car. For the first time in my life,
I had an insatiable desire to really know God. As during Cyndi’s
cancer treatment years, pain again had stripped away the pretense
in my life. I wanted only what was real and lasting: God. When
I was weary and in pain, the only thing that brought me comfort
was thoughts of Jesus and His mercy.
God continued to heal me emotionally during the following months,
and I began to regain physical strength as well. Over a period
of six weeks, I had lost almost fifteen pounds, some of my hair
had fallen out, and—though no one took me seriously—I
truly thought my fingernails had stopped growing.
Believing that there is a direct correlation between recovery
and chocolate chips, my mom primed the pump of my appetite by
keeping a container of cookies on the kitchen counter. With this
steady diet of sugar and flour, it wasn’t long before those
fifteen pounds found their way back onto my body and my fingernails
suddenly needed a manicure. And, of course, as everyone knows,
cookies lead to pizza and pizza leads to healthy eating—at
least in the home I grew up in.
Despite this flawed nutritional logic, I was getting better.
But with renewed physical strength came restlessness. I needed
to get away from the house that had held me captive for six weeks.
I also needed to again pursue the ministry God had called me to:
In March, I boarded the plane to Tennessee surrounded by Dare2Share
friends, including Greg Stier, who had become as close as family.
From Denver, we flew to Chicago’s O’Hare airport for
a layover. At the airport food court, I watched the people around
me hurrying about and talking in what seemed to be unusually loud
voices. For weeks, I had lived my life away from the bustle of
people and without the sensory stimulation of television. Now
I sat in wonderment, taking in the frenetic pace and noise of
the American lifestyle. My world had stopped, but for everyone
else life continued as usual.
The following day, I prepared to lead the band in a twenty-minute
worship set at East Tennessee State University. Less than a minute
before show time, I felt Greg’s hand on my shoulder. “Hey
man, just do what you can,” he said, his faced etched with
concern. “If you need to end early, we’ll figure it
His understanding was comforting. Seconds later I took a deep
breath and walked onto the stage, surrounded by my brothers and
sisters in Christ.
The next twenty minutes were amazing. Though my voice was tired
and out of shape, the joy of worshiping God overwhelmed me. The
deep thud of the kick drum grooved with the bass guitar behind
me, and it felt healing to once again sling my guitar over my
The following week, Ruthie gave me a sermon on tape given by
her pastor in Colorado Springs. The message revolved around King
David and his response to pain. Moved by the pastor’s words,
I picked up my Bible and read Psalms 41–42. David was no
stranger to grief and suffering, and his lament to the Lord was
compelling. Time and again in these two chapters David resolutely
stated, “Put your hope in God. For I will yet praise Him!”
It seemed as if David was girding himself against the onslaught
of pain, forcing himself to dispel his weakness and put his faith
in God. In David I found a fellow journeyman who may not have
understood everything God was up to, yet continued to follow Him
I then realized that worship is sometimes based on faith, not
joy, and that some of our most sincere times of worship are conducted
through tears. For the first time since Cyndi’s death, I
picked up my guitar to write a song.
Worship You with Tears
You know when I rise
You know when I sleep
You know that I need You desperately
I pour out my soul, oh Lord
I worship You with tears
I am broken
I have nothing to give
I fall at Your feet
And worship You with tears
Where can I go
To meet with You Lord
My soul is so thirsty for You
Send forth Your truth, as I
Worship You with tears
Words and Music by Danny Oertli (May, 2002)
Summer arrived and I did my best to take every opportunity to
spend time with my children. Many days, we would venture into
the field across from our house to sit upon the Great Lightning
Tree and talk about life—or life as seen through the eyes
of a four-year-old and an almost-two-year-old. The tree was a
great cottonwood from years past that had been knocked horizontal
by a bolt of lightning. The kids seemed to believe it was a magical
place and I did nothing to discourage them. It was our haven,
our secret place to go as a family, another place for God to heal
and bond us through laughter and dreams.
As fall descended upon the Rocky Mountains, Gracie traveled
with me to Alaska, where I was to lead worship for a family conference.
One night as I slept, I stepped outside and found myself staring
up at the majestic Aurora Borealis. In all my life, I had never
seen anything so beautiful, so surreal. In wide-eyed wonder, I
gazed at the colorful theater that was the northern sky. The colors
swirled from silvery blue to green, with an occasional burst of
pinkish red on the horizon.
Slowly, the awe I felt turned to introspection. If God can
light the forest with the surreal beauty of dancing lights, how
much more can He help me walk this lonely road of pain? If He
controls the heavens, what am I so afraid of?
It would not be the last time God encouraged me with the magnificence
of His creation.
One month later, Grace, Jack, and I were driving down the road
in my really fast Honda minivan. As we pulled into a parking space
at Wal-Mart an incredible sunset began to form over the mountains.
The car’s interior was bathed in amber light and deep strokes
of yellow crisscrossed the sky, as if drawn by an unseen hand.
“Daddy,” came Gracie’s little voice from the
back seat, “Did God let mommy paint the sky tonight?”
Looking in the rearview mirror I saw her leaning into Jack to
catch a better view. As the light from the sunset settled on their
faces, I silently praised God for the healing and hope that He
had brought into our lives.
For months, I had been assuring Gracie and Jack that God had
not forgotten us and that He loved us more than we could imagine.
I had used big words like “sovereign” and “eternity,”
concepts even I didn’t understand. But with the brush of
His hand, God spoke to Gracie that night in a way I could not.
With thanksgiving for God’s mercy, I wrote this song for
Mommy Paints the Sky
Job 26:13-14, Psalm 19:1
The wind blows your hair
On this warm November night
Your small hand in mine
And eyes that ask me why
But I don’t know
But somewhere in the sky
Beyond the mountain peaks
The moon will find its voice
As the sun lays down to sleep
You ask me why she’s gone
I don’t know where to start
As the sunset lights your face
I see God knows how to heal little hearts
So He has
Mommy paint the sky
With deep ocean blue
She swirls the clouds red
To dance just for you
Mommy paints the sky
With the laughter of God
There by Jesus side
So high above
As if to say it won’t be long
Mommy paints the sky
The heavens flame with gold
Slowly changing hue
The brilliance of a stage
That was made to shine for you
And with each amber flare
You watch her hand at play
Tender kisses fall
As she paints what words could never say
I’m so thankful
The heavens still proclaim
Mercy and healing
In the middle of the pain
So thank you Jesus
For keeping hope alive
With the beauty of heaven
Painted on an autumn sky
As if to say it won’t be long
Mommy paints the sky
Words and music by Danny Oertli (January, 2003)
None of us knew it at the time, but I would sing that song hundreds
of times and tell Gracie’s story of hope and faith to countless
But God was not finished writing. There was another dramatic
chapter to add to our story, and it would unfold much sooner than
Oertli is an accomplished singer, songwriter, worship leader,
and author. He is also the father of two, Grace and Jack. Recently
remarried, Danny and his wife, Rayna, live with Grace and Jack
This excerpt was taken from Mommy Paints the Sky, by
Danny Oertli, Copyright © 2004, published by NavPress.
Used by permission. Unauthorized duplication prohibited.
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