Book Review: The Executioner's Redemption

It has been many years since I have picked up a book and been unable to put it down until turning the last page. This is that book. 

My publisher, Concordia Publishing House, sent me the manuscript to read for possible endorsement, which I eagerly accepted. Why so eager? Tim Carter also happens to be one of my pastors.

Before answering God's call to be a pastor, Tim worked for the Texas penitentiary system for the better part of two decades. He lived inside the Walls Unit in Huntsville, Texas, better known as the "death house." He began as a rifle-toting gun tower officer, eventually served as an inmate disciplinary hearing judge, then finally became a member of the death squad where he participated in more than 150 executions.

The man that I know today is a kind-hearted, gentle soul who joyfully serves the Lord. I cannot fathom that in his early days as a prison guard, he could, in his own words: "...out-hate, out-cuss, and out-con the hardest of convicts or guards" (p. 7).

Throughout the book, Tim provides jaw-dropping insights into the execution process and those who people that world. From the condemned inmates and his/her family, to the families of the victims, to his fellow guards, Tim escorts us behind the walls of death row into a world that the vast majority of us will never see.

But beyond the physical and very emotional stories from death row, God was working out a bigger story in Tim's life: to turn him from a wolf into a sheep. To turn Tim's eyes from the world and onto his Savior. To transform a hard-hearted executioner into a grace-filled advocate of hope for the condemned and the families. He says:

"As one empowered to wield the 'sword of the state,' I went through a turbulent pilgrimage of experiences that shaped my heart and soul. Therefore the following story is not simply a gratuitous look inside death row; it is the story of the progression of my faith in Christa relationship that triggered a long and serious struggle to know His will concerning my authority and responsibility in wielding that sword" (p. viii).

Tim was warned by his mentor officer early on in his penal career: "You seem to be a nice guy, but that can be a problem. ... You see, in here, nice guys don't finish lastthey just don't finish" (p.7). Over time, God worked powerfully to soften Tim's heart and he came to understand:

"As a Christian called to serve both God and country in the controversial role of inmate executions, my primary responsibility was the same responsibility held by every Christian. Jesus said that we must let our light shine before men so that they see what we do and give glory to God (Matthew 5:16)" (p. 154). 

Although the true stories that Tim shares within these pages left my chin scraping the carpet, that's not what kept me riveted until the last page. Rather, it was seeing how God slowly but surely transformed Tim's heart to be more like His.

The spiritual disciplines that Tim describes caused me to literally grab a spiral notebook and a pen to make a list of areas in my own life where I desperately need to apply similar discipline. I have began applying those disciplines over the past few months and have seen hope-filled progress.

That is VITAL. Because, let me tell you, any book that leaves me scrambling to grab the Word of God to read, learn, and apply valuable spiritual disciplines is a book that I will wholeheartedly recommend to absolutely everyone.

As we all face spiritual battles and dark places, Tim affirms:

"Even in the most unlikely times and places, if the light of Christ is shining through His people, the hopeless find hope, the brokenhearted are restored, and hard, hateful hearts are softened. I have seen the hardest hearts melt like wax in the death house and give glory to God. I have seen the smallest sheep in the darkest corners of the prison reflect the light of Christ brighter than you could imagine" (p. 154).

The bottom line? If you long for God to powerfully transform any area of your life, this book provides significant, invaluable help. It has profoundly impacted my spiritual journey.

I WANT YOU TO WIN A COPY. To celebrate this amazing book's release, I am giving away a signed copy of The Executioner's Redemption plus a $25 Starbucks gift card to TWO lucky winners. To enter the drawing, please do the following:
  1. Leave a comment telling me what might interest you about this book; 
  2. Share this post on social media. Every retweet on Twitter (tagging #Executioner) earns you one entry in the drawing. Every Facebook share will earn you another entry; and
  3. Subscribe to my blog. Yes, you can always unsubscribe, but I sure hope you'll stick around.
The winner will be announced on Tuesday's blog post.

I wish I could give all of you a copy -- this book is that good. The Gospel is that great. I cannot wait to witness the ministry that God will bring through it.

trASH Wednesday

Before Ash Wednesday rings in at midnight tonight, Mardi Gras in New Orleans culminates with a blowout celebration.

French for Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras originally referred to the practice of one last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual 40-day fasting of the Lenten season.

Our culture has turned Mardi Gras into week-long festivals. From parades and balls to masks and elaborate costumes, it's the cue for many to overindulge in all sorts of ways.

At 11:59 p.m. on Fat Tuesday, the streets of New Orleans sit ankle deep in discarded masks, broken beads, trampled doubloons, and used food and drink containers.

Fat Tuesday creates a lot of trash.

As we enter our churches tomorrow to receive ashes and begin the 40-days of Lent, we drag our life's trash in with us. You know, the junk in our lives that we've accumulated and hung onto since last year's Lent.

Unforgiveness. Broken promises. Resentment. Hurt.

Our heart garbage litters the pristine aisles and clutters our mind with the refuse of regrets, waste of missed opportunities, and the rubbish of shattered dreams.

Yet God still lovingly invites us: "Come to me..."

We are aware of our junk, so we approach Him with eyes downcast -- stumbling on the trash that chokes our freedom. And He welcomes us.

He invites us to discard our masks and elaborate disguises that conceal feelings, hide behaviors, and keep Him at arms length. To approach Him with our eyes lifted toward His grace and forgiveness.

God sees us drowning -- so He picks us out of the pile, cleanses us, and sets us on a new path.

"Who can compare with God, our God, so majestically enthroned, surveying His magnificent heavens and earth? He picks up the poor from out of the dirt, rescues the wretched who've been thrown out with the trash, and seats them among the honored guests, a place of honor among the brightest and best." Psalm 113:5-8 (MSG)

God invites us to leave our heart's used food and drink containers at the altar in exchange for His bread of life. His communion of forgiveness.

To heal our hearts. And redeem us from our sin.

As I prepare for this Lenten season, I'm painfully aware of the rotting trash curling around my feet. The rancid yards of it trailing behind me. The putrid bags of it I carry in my heart.

Self-centeredness. Entitlement. Pride.


I'm so thankful for a loving God who still welcomes. Still invites. Endlessly loves. And continues to initiate that relationship with me that means everything.

He does the same for every single person who seeks Him.

He excels at redeeming us from our trash.

*This is a blog archive re-post from 2015*

Embracing Advent: O Come Let Us Adore Him

Sometimes the speed of life races past at the speed of light.

Way. Too. Fast.

In this upcoming season of Advent, I am intentionally pausing.  

To be still.

To reflect on the Light of the World that came to us at Christmas. I will spend 11 glorious days in Germany this December enjoying the beautiful cathedrals, snow-covered Bavarian Alps, and festive Christmas markets.

Starting Monday, November 30th, I am sharing daily Advent devotions that pair Scripture with pictures that I've snapped around the world. You'll find them each day on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and a dedicated board on Pinterest.

Consider yourself invited to enjoy this daily Advent reminder -- to let the season breathe. To allow Him to breathe new life into us.

Here's a sneak peek:

I warmly invite you to join me to apply the brakes before we break into a thousand glass pieces this Christmas.

So look for these Advent devotions on social media each day through Christmas Day. I'd love to hear how you and your family are embracing this beautiful season of light!

I pray that you and your loved ones enjoy a blessed, holy Christmas!
  With love from my home to yours.

Announcing the Contest Winner—and a Break

Thank you SO much to all who entered the contest to win my new women's devotional journal, "A Sparrow's Worth."

And the winner is...

Branson Merrill!!!

I'll be emailing you to get your mailing address. CONGRATULATIONS!!

Everyone can still order a copy [click here] for yourself and perhaps a few to share with friends, because 100% of the proceeds benefit the incredible, Christ-centered work of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League. Plus, you get to spend time with the Lord in His Word with this devotional journal.

And now...

I am knee deep into my next book manuscript, so I'm heading to the writing cave for the rest of the summer to make strong progress, but I'll be back in the Fall.

In the meantime, I'll see you on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

But I want you to know ... I'll miss you until we meet again in January 2016.

   And what's going on in your life.

      And our talks about Jesus.

Until then, love and hugs from the writing cave!

Release Celebration! New Women's Devotional Journal (and a Giveaway!)

This new resource is now available!

Unending joy gushes as I hold out this offering to you with trembling hands, trusting an uncontainable God to do uncontainable ministry through it.

Because it's all about HIM. For HIM. Because of HIM.
In spite of our messes.

So what's it about? Culture bombards women with messages that we only have value if we are outwardly beautiful. But, dear sister, your value transcends far deeper. This 30-day journal refocuses our hearts and minds on what God values in us. Here's a snippet from the introduction:

"Each morning when you and I step in front of the mirror, we have a choice: to view our worth through culture's perception or God's truth. This journal teaches us to view ourselves through God's truth. Each day we will rediscover that in God's eyes our worth is never placed in something as transient as cultural opinion. We have been created in God's image (Gen. 1:27) where our worth is based on how God views us through Christ's blood sacrifice of love." 

And here's the really cool thing: 

100% of the proceeds from A Sparrow's Worth go to the work of the Lutheran Women's Missionary League ("LWML"). The LWML is near and dear to my heart, because they exist to spread the Good News of the Gospel through worldwide mission work and Christ-centered resources. I have been privileged to serve and partner with LWML for almost 20 years and have seen first hand lives changed and souls saved as a direct result of their commitment to sharing Christ's love.

A Sparrow's Worth makes its debut this weekend at the LWML's national convention in Des Moines, Iowa. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by and I'll be honored to sign copies.

To celebrate what I am trusting God will do through A Sparrow's Worth, it's time for an exciting giveaway!!
  • Three signed copies of A Sparrow's Worth, one for you and two to share with special women in your life;
  • A beautiful bird mug, to enjoy your favorite beverage as you journal; 
  • $25 Starbucks gift card; and
  • Yummy Chocolate, because it's just not a prize without chocolate. :)

  1. Leave a comment below and tell me why you'd like to receive A Sparrow's Worth.
  2. Subscribe to my blog via feed or email [look to the right]. 
  3. Share this Release Celebration giveaway on Facebook, Twitter and/or Instagram (be sure to tag @donnapyletx on Twitter/Instagram). Each time you share this giveaway on social media, you earn another entry into the drawing!
The winner will be announced on next Tuesday's blog post, so you have a whole week to share this opportunity! If you'd like to order A Sparrow's Worth for you and/or a friend, click HERE.

I pray that A Sparrow's Worth richly blesses your spiritual walk and draws you closer to Christ, our Value-Giver. THANK YOU for the privilege of serving you along this crazy, joy-filled journey of faith.

Time to Comment, Sign Up and Share!

Charleston: For the Facing of this Hour

As Twitter and Facebook flooded with news of the tragic church shooting this morning, lyrics of that beloved hymn, "God of Grace and God of Glory," immediately came to mind:

“Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the facing of this hour." 

Even though you and I were not physically present in that beautiful, historic Charleston church, our disbelief and grief transported our hearts, thoughts and prayers into bloody pews alongside the grieving.  

Tweets containing the hashtag #PrayForCharleston have numbered in the thousands on Twitter. Facebook overflowed with outpourings of love and prayers for those affected.

There was fear and shock, as well. One tweet in particular caught my attention: "If you're not safe in church, where can you go? Where was God? I can't deal with this."

God knows our fears and hurts, and He is right here crying with us.

Then this news headline surfaced: "Churches all over Charleston open their doors to welcome the grieving and hold prayer vigils."

What the devil intended for harm has united God's people together in prayer and reaching out with His love.

We know we live in a fallen world where sin divides by gender, race and denomination, but we have a Savior who unites and conquers with LOVE.  

We saw it on Good Friday over 2,000 years ago as Jesus sacrificed His life for you and me to secure that certain hope for eternal life with Him.

This world may be messed up, but we have a Messiah who redeems beauty from ashes. What the enemy intends for destruction, God faithfully redeems for His good purposes.

You and I have a choice in how we respond.

We can waste time spreading hate-filled statements toward the 21 year-old shooter, or we can invest time spreading the hope and love of Christ to those families and loved ones affected.

So for the facing of this hour, I pray that we seek His wisdom and courage to move forward in compassion.

With prayer.

Arm in arm.

Relying on His strength.

"But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint
." Isaiah 40:31


Where I Invite You to the Holy Land

Have you ever experienced a moment when you realized — as you were experiencing it — that God had forever changed your life in that instant?

On the morning of May 29, 2010, I sank to my knees in prayer under an olive tree in the Garden of Gethsemane. That same place where Jesus did likewise over 2,000 years ago.

My tears turned the red dirt into mud as I grieved the sudden loss of my marriage only three months prior. From that profound place of brokenness, I asked God for three things:
  1.  Heal my heart and enable me to forgive;
  2. Confirm His calling on my life for a writing/teaching ministry; and
  3. Allow me to return one day to that very same place in the Garden to worship Him.
God answered the first and second prayers with a resounding YES and has faithfully brought them to fruition. And in His perfect timing alone, God has granted my third prayer to return to the Holy Land.

You are invited to join me on a 9-day tour of the Holy Land on April 16-24, 2016!

Rev. Wayne Graumann and his lovely wife Kathy will be joining us, as well. Wayne baptized and confirmed me on Palm Sunday 1991 and holds a very dear place in my heart and spiritual journey. Wayne and I will tag-team teach from Scripture at the very places where several Biblical events occurred. Individuals and couples are welcome.

I can assure you, your life will be forever changed on this pilgrimage.

Receiving Communion looking at the empty tomb will wreck you for Jesus. Love poured out for you, right there. It's truly overwhelming.

We plan to film and/or photograph part of this tour for a future Bible study/devotion series, as well. It goes without saying that there are limited spots, so they will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

Wayne, Kathy and I eagerly anticipate what God will accomplish as we share this life-changing journey to the land of our Bible. We are already praying for you.

For the detailed agenda and tour information, click HERE.

Rev. Wayne and Kathy Graumann

Summer Blogging Break

It's that time of year.

A time to step back from the computer and step outside to breathe.

A season for me to finish a few unfinished reading projects. Disappear in Scripture for hours without interruption. And sharpen my Scripture memory work. And do some long, hard praying about a few situations.

You'll catch me hopping on and off of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram where I hope to see you. Right now, I need my writing focused on a new manuscript over the summer, the news about which I will share with you VERY soon.

But come the Fall, I'll be back so we can pick up where we left off.

Because I will miss you.  

And our chats here about Jesus. 

I humbly ask for your prayers for God to guide my thoughts and pen. And you are in my prayers as for a restful, Jesus-filled summer.

I am so grateful for the privilege of doing life with you with Jesus at the center.

On Those Days When We Wonder If Ministry Is Worth It

I don't have a long list of theological qualifications or college degrees.

I am not steeped in denominational traditions that some hold sacred.

I wasn't raised going to church regularly.

Yet I have been part of the Church now for 24 years.

So when do I start feeling like an insider? 

I wonder if I'll ever be able to speak in front of a room full of people without trembling from head to toe, wondering whether or not this feeling of being an outsider will ever dissipate. Because I bring one qualification to the table: I'm a sinner saved by grace who simply said YES. 

It's called ministry.

Over the years, God relentlessly stirred in my heart a passion to study Scripture. In His Word there is breath and life, forgiveness and redemption, and grace and love. So I chose to become a Bible nerd, because that's where Jesus wooed me and I fell in love with Him. Page after page demonstrates how much He loves us and what He accomplished on our behalf even while we were still sinners.

I've learned to filter life through the teachings and truths of Scripture, but I still don't know it well.

It never fails after speaking at each event, people have questions. Questions I don't have the answers to. And I'll watch the realization dawn on their faces when they figure out that I'm just as frightened and confused as they are about this thing we call faith, and I'm not the authority figure they think they need.

Sometimes I wait fidgeting in green rooms before walking onto a platform, and I wonder with all the lights, production and media if it wouldn't be better for Lady Gaga just to show up and entertain.

I'm not an entertainer. I fit in best with those who don't fit in. The ones who are still trying to find their way. Those who survive life's messes only by the grace of God.

Because I understand that.

I live that. 

And I stand before some women who have lived this faith journey twice as long and wonder what in the world God will say through me that can even make a difference in their lives. I dive in out of obedience, then afterward a woman in her 70s comes up and says how she now understands parts of the Bible in ways that she hasn't before.

And I'm once again amazed at how God uses cracked, clay pots. How he uses our differences to make a difference.

But I soon forget the conversation, because someone else makes a thoughtless comment about divorce or the inadequacy of not being a lifelong church-goer. And I let the enemy take the wind from my sails once again instead of leaning against the Rock of Ages.

Some days I feel like such a fraud.

And then a reader from California sends me photos of their women's group walking through one of my Bible studies. And the envelope contains handwritten notes from each lady. Then I get an email of encouragement from Canada. And I sit next to a conference-goer's most precious little girl on a plane whose enthusiasm re-introduces me to the beauty of sunset at 42,000 feet.

And I just want to do well by these amazing people. And I long to honor God above all.

So I make plans to start a new devotional series or map out a new Bible study to keep pointing them the Source of Love.

Then my inbox gets too full. And someone warns me to tone down the divorce talk and loving-on-LGBT-people talk because it makes safe people feel uncomfortable. And then I worry if I'm offending my platform to where it will affect my bottom line, because I need to replace a rusting front gate before it collapses.

And I get anxious about getting my "brand" out there and keeping afloat on the sea of social media. Before I know it I haven't seen my mom or sisters in weeks and I only see real-life friends every other month because I'm too busy traveling the country telling other people how to love their neighbors.

And I get overwhelmed and angry and tired in places that I didn't know I could get tired.

Can this be good for my soul? Is this whole ministry thing worth it?


I pull into the driveway after a long trip, and see that one-eyed squirrel digging in my flowerbed.

George, named by an online friend's young child, is storing up nuts again. I thought for sure that a cat had gotten him last year when he suddenly disappeared and never came back. Yet here he is, half blind but faithfully working toward winter.

At the sight of him so industrious, I put my head on the steering wheel and let the tears roll.

Maybe it's because I'm exhausted from the trip.

Maybe it's because I'm just glad to be home.

Or maybe because George reminds me that life is only as complicated as I choose to make it.

So I just keep praying for God's guidance. For Him to give me the strength to do this calling that I could have never pictured nor imagined. Ever.

And I'll remember a raggedy band of twelve disciples who were outsiders and held no more qualifications for ministry than I do. Who could have never pictured nor imagined that journey.

And half blind I'll faithfully keep writing about real life and a real Jesus who loves real people in real time.

And I'll keep sharing encouragement from God's Word hoping that He uses this messy, unorganized disciple to stir ripples of hope in hurting hearts.

And I'll stop worrying about being an insider, because in this world we will always be outsiders, called to shine His light in the darkness.

It's that simple.

It's that hard.

It's that wonderful.

It's called ministry.

And I wouldn't change it for the world.



What Scriptures Helped You Survive Life's Darkest Storms?

It's the wee hours, the candle has almost burned to a nub, and I'm finishing up another chapter in my next book.

The rain is coming down in sheets outside.

And it hits me: I need your wisdom. Well, your experience, really.

What Scripture passage(s)  have helped you through life's darkest storms?

We all experience those life storms. Death of a loved one. A wayward child. Divorce. Miscarriage. Infertility. Health difficulties. Unending singleness. Job loss. Career transfer. Caring for aging parents. Sending that last kid to college.

You name it, we've experienced it.

But what I want to know is: which passage(s) did God highlight for you during those toughest trials?

When I endured the unbelievable pain and sadness of divorce five and a half years ago, God led me straight to Psalm 18:

He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
Psalm 18:16-19

Those amazing verses helped me remember that God never abandons me in the storm -- even when I can't see Him past the debris. He is my rock and spacious place -- because He delights in me.

What about you?

Someone reading this post today may be enduring a hard time.

The verse that God used in powerfully your life may be just the one that he or she needs to hear. 

It may be the exact one that fits perfectly in this next book.

Would you be willing to share it here today?

And if you're experiencing one of those storms right now, perhaps you could make a note of these to keep close each day.