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Book: Mommy Paints the Sky

Album: Everything in Between

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Mommy Paints the Sky

By Danny Oertli"Mommy 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 week.

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 age.”

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 58:6-12:

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: music.

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 out.”

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 shoulder.

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 in faith.

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 Gracie:

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 people.

But God was not finished writing. There was another dramatic chapter to add to our story, and it would unfold much sooner than anyone expected.

Danny OertliDanny 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 in Colorado.

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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