Mommy Paints the Sky
A Love Story
Reviewer: Discerning Reader Team
It seems that behind every sad song is a sad story. Behind an inspiring song is an inspiring story. Behind the song "Mommy Paints the Sky," there is both. With thanksgiving but sadness in his heart, Danny Oertli wrote a song for his daughter. "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."
"Gracie, 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 criss-crossed 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 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 somehow, on that night, God gave Gracie a glimpse of something that touched her little heart. He began to heal her. On a warm, November night, God used the magnificence of His creation to teach a lonely little girl a lesson her father could not – that mommy had gone to be with Jesus. God began to heal a little heart that was hurting for its mommy.
Mommy Paints the Sky is a love story: a story written by Danny Oertli, a singer, songwriter and now an author, to share the story of his life with Cyndi. He fell in love with Cyndi in high school, dated her through college and married her shortly after. But within six months of marriage they were devastated to learn that she had cancer. God saw fit to heal her and in the years that followed to bring two children to their family. But after eight years marked with both struggle and triumph, God very suddenly called Cyndi to Himself, leaving a man struggling to find hope and meaning through the pain and leaving two children wondering when mommy would come home.
This is a beautiful story and one that touched me deeply, perhaps because I have been married for a similar amount of time and have a similar family, or perhaps because the lessons Oertli learned were ones I need to learn as well. As we read about Cyndi’s illness and her death, we can see Danny’s growth in his understanding of those terms he claims to know so little about – sovereignty and eternity. He comes to see that God is sovereign and can do His will within His creation. He comes to see that suffering is not meaningless, but that somehow it serves a purpose. Oertli writes, in his reflection on a special passage of Scripture, that "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" (page 133). At the same time he learned about eternity, that it is only one short sleep past (to borrow a phrase from John Donne). God exists outside of time, so while His timing may not be ours, we have to trust that He knows best.
Oertli expresses his understanding of these great truths in "Worship You With Tears," the first song he wrote after Cyndi’s death. "You know when I rise / You know when I sleep / You know 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." He shows that he can worship God with tears, trusting not in knowing why God allowed this to happen, but in God’s goodness, faithfulness and sovereignty. That spirit of trust pervades the book.
I’ll admit that I had a few small concerns with the author’s theology, primarily with several uses of the "God spoke to me" language that is all too common today. Some may say that I’ve allowed emotion to distract me from this seriousness of this problem (and this is an emotional book), but I feel that it did not detract seriously from the book, and to focus undue attention on it would be to miss the beauty of the story. While God may not have spoken to Gracie through the sunset, He somehow used it to touch her heart and to help her understand that mommy had gone to be with Him. I cannot argue with that.
This book encouraged me, even as one who has never experienced so painful and significant a loss. I have little doubt it will be used to touch and to heal many hurting hearts and to prepare others for the pain that is always so nearby in this fallen world. To echo the words of Jerry Bridges in his endorsement, "Mommy Paints the Sky will draw you closer to God." It will also move you to tears. A beautiful story, this is one I highly recommend. I would also recommend purchasing Danny Oertli’s album Everything Inbetween as a companion, as it has recordings of many of the songs he writes about in this book. The book grows better when you can hear the songs, and the songs have more meaning once you have read the story.