Summer Interview Series: Danny Oertli
Danny Oertli is a singer, songwriter, musician and author, who encourages audiences around the world with his testimony to God’s faithfulness. His latest album, Everything Inbetween, produced by Jason Burkum, was released last month. His book, Mommy Paints The Sky, was published last year by NavPress. After reading his book and listening to his album, I was eager to talk to him about his experiences. He was gracious to grant an interview which you can read below.
Who is Danny Oertli? Tell me a little bit about yourself. And if you don’t mind, tell me how to pronounce your last name!
I’ve lived my entire life in CO. Raised in Colorado Springs, my dad was a Baptist minister and my mom was the daughter of a pastor as well. I started playing guitar in Jr. High and began leading worship when I got to college. Some of my favorite things are to play golf, fly fish, eat Italian, relax in the hot tub with my kids, go to movies with my wife, and read. I have never eaten a salad, and I once went bungee jumping in Australia.
Oh yeah, Oertli rhymnes with “shortly.”
Who do you count as formative influences in your music?
In high school, my youth leader Joe Hesh was an accomplished musician. He did much to help me get going in music. My musical tastes have always been ecclectic. Some artists and bands that have been influential in the way I write are U2, Jim Croce, Fernando Ortega, Andrew Peterson, Colorado guitarist Dave Beegle, the Kry, and any 80’s tunes.
What are three of your favorite albums from the past couple of years?
Tree63- The Answer to the Question, Norah Jones- Come Away With Me, and Andrew Peterson- Love and Thunder.
Who do you count as formative influences in your theology?
My parents were always very consistent in their relationship with the Lord. Their example taught me a great deal about walking humbly with God. C.S. Lewis was also a huge influence on me, especially in my college years. Since then, people who have challenged me spiritually are Jerry Bridges, John Piper, Fran Sciacca (my high school Bible teacher and an incredible author), and Randy Alcorn.
What are three books you feel every Christian should read?
Heaven- Randy Alcorn
The Knowledge of the Holy- A.W. Tozer
Chronicles of Narnia- C.S. Lewis
Your most recent album is “Everything In Between.” Tell me a little bit about the album and the meaning of its name.
This record is a rollercoaster of emotion. Each song tells the story of events that shaped my life over the last three years- some light and whimsical and some very deep. “Everything In Between” also alludes to the place we find ourselves here on earth as we experience the goodness of God but also the pain of a fallen world.
The lyrics for “Worship You With Tears” read, in part, “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.” What is the story behind this song?
When my wife died of a sudden, unexpected heart attack, my life was flipped upside down. I didn’t know which way to turn- where to find God. One day I was driving and heard a pastor mention that sometimes our most sincere worship can come with tears. That day, I tried to write my first song since the death of my wife. I couldn’t sing very well and it was as if my fingers had forgotten how to play. But, as I look back, the croaking and fumbling of that afternoon was probably the sweetest music I had made for the Lord as my heart was sincere and focused on expressing my trust in God. I took passages directly from the book of Psalms and weaved them into my lament to the Lord.
The late pastor James Boice, when he spoke to his congregation after finding out that he had terminal cancer, addressed their prayers for him, saying, “My general impression is that the God who is able to do miracles—and He certainly can—is also able to keep you from getting the problem in the first place.” I am sure you prayed many times for God to heal your wife. Did you find that you were able to take comfort in God’s sovereignty, knowing that He can do all things, or was it easier to place your hope in His ability to bring healing? Were you able to consistently reconcile your head-knowledge with your heart-knowledge?
Sovereignty is a wonderful thing. In it, God allows us to trust him and not carry all of the burden. I found that to be the focal point of all my hope: God was sovereign. He hadn’t made a mistake. He hadn’t forgotten me or my children. All God requires is our trust. When we show our faith, peace, encouragement, and joy will soon follow. It’s incredibly painful and difficult to be pushed out of our comfortable nest, but when we begin to spread our wings of faith, God is the air that fills our wings.
How has your wife’s illness and death changed your understanding of life, death and eternity?
Over the last few years, I’ve realized how short life is. As a result, I’ve changed quite a few things in my life. For instance, I work less and play more. A lot more. And, that has been great for my family! Though the death of my wife was painful, somehow I’m not as afraid of death now as I once was. In fact, having been forced to deal with the death of someone so close to me, I’ve been reminded that we as Christians have nothing to fear and everything to look forward to at the end of our lives. Death is just the beginning!
What made you decide to write a book about the experience of losing your wife and dealing with the pain and grief?
Early in my journey, I read every book I could get my hands on concerning grief. I believe it was so that I would know that I wasn’t alone in my suffering. I was also always on the lookout for others who had experienced a tragedy in their lives. I wanted to talk with all of them. I needed to talk with all of them- to be reminded once again that I wasn’t alone. As I read and talked, God began to use those people to help with the healing process. After a few people had asked me if I was interested in sharing my story in a book, I was prayful that God would use my story as an encouragement like he had with so many others in my life.
You recently remarried. What was the transition like for yourself and Rayna in your marriage and with your children? What were some of the greatest struggles and the greatest joys for both yourself and your wife?
Many people have asked me this question and it has a simple yet incredibly complex answer: it has been wonderful! But, only by God’s grace. There were so many potential difficulties in bringing Rayna into our home. Yet, I believe that God “spiritually” smoothed what could have been a bumpy road, especially with the children. From the day I asked Rayna to marry me, the children called her mommy. It was as if God released their little hearts from the pain and potential bitterness and allowed them a fresh start. Now, there were and are still struggles. It took some time for Rayna to catch up physically from being a single girl to a wife and mother of two in one day! And it was also a struggle for me to learn to relax after I had been raising two kids on my own. But, all of the struggles seemed minor in the light of newfound happiness after a dark time.
Is it difficult for Rayna to accept that much of your ministry is based on your relationship with your first wife?
Rayna has been incredibly gracious and kind over the past two years in a situation many people would want to avoid. She’s always smiling encouragement from the back row when I’m sharing my story in concert. Amazing. And, to be honest, it can be strange at times. As Rayna and I continue to forge a life together, often we’re taken back to the past. But, our story is one of redemption, a journey through difficult times that eventually culminated in our meeting. So, there is a understood “wink” between us as I share that the story isn’t one that ended three and a half years ago, but one that is still being written.
What is your most enduring memory of Cyndi?
In the fall of 1998, Cyndi and I traveled to Guatemala to meet the child we sponsored through Compassion International. By God’s grace, someone snapped a photo as Cyndi first met this little girl. The joy on her face as they hugged exemplifies Cyndi’s heart in a way words could never express. In that moment, she was doing exactly what God has called us to do- love the broken and everything in her spirit was full of life and love.
How would you like people to remember Danny Oertli?
Not as a man who never ate salad, but as a man who lived life to the full, loved his family and friends, and served God until his last breath.
Learn more about Danny at dannyoertli.com.