“I made it through 25 years because I had people at Grace,” says Paul Eichwedel, the author of this article about tithing.
Paul was released from Dixon Correctional Center in October of 2012. You may have met him recently behind Grace’s reception desk on a Saturday morning or at a Sunday worship service.
Giving Story: Tithing is for “Me, too!”
by Paul Eichwedel
Yesterday, as everyone was leaving the June 2 congregation meeting at Grace, I heard more than one person say, "If we increased giving by just ten percent, the debate we just had would not have been necessary." It made me pause and think.
Prior to my incarceration, I used to enjoy spending time with my nieces and nephew. My niece Sarah, who was around two or three at the time, was one of those kids we'd refer to as a "handful." She was smart, funny, outspoken, strong-willed and a whirlwind of activity. When we were kids, our mother used to tell my sister, "Wait until you grow up and have kids, you'll get one just like you, and then you'll know how it feels." Sarah was that child for my sister. And yet, she was a fun kid to be around.
One of her favorite expressions was: "Me too!" It was her way of saying, "Hey, I want to be included in whatever it is that you are doing or giving away!" My dad used to laugh and say, "Sarah, you don't even know what we're talking about!" She'd be undeterred by his comments.
What has all this to do with tithing? I'll tell you. While reading the Bible, I came across a verse in Malachi 3:10:
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. “Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
Test God? Really? I wondered about that. So, late in 2006, I wrote Pastor Lueking and asked him the question, borrowing my niece's words, "Me too?" In other words, does this verse apply to me and to us today? Does God's invitation to the Israelites apply to us? He assured me that it does.
So in 2007, I started to make a meaningful effort to tithe. My first year wasn't great. I came in at 4.3 percent--a start, but not quite good enough. Over the next four years, it ranged between 8.2 and 11.7 percent--an improvement, to be sure. And I learned something that my dad once said, "You can't outgive God."
It's a simple expression, but profound at the same time. And I thought about my experience. Did I go without anything that I needed in order to tithe? I did not. Did God bless me during those years, notwithstanding the fact that I was in prison? He did. How much of a sacrifice was it? Well, to meet my tithe one year--or at least to get closer than I was at the time--I gave up sweets for Lent, chocolate specifically. The money I saved was used to catch up on my tithes. It was difficult the first week or so, but it got easier and I was able to keep my commitment both to give up something for Lent and to pay my tithes.
Since getting out of prison, I have renewed my commitment to tithe — or at least make a meaningful effort to do so. Given my income, or lack thereof, this was a struggle for me. Some months, it meant skipping meals, which several urged me to refrain from doing. Other months, it meant foregoing treats — easier, but still a sacrifice of sorts. Ultimately, however, I view it in this perspective: The guy who volunteered to be nailed to a cross for me is asking me to give back 10 percent of what comes from him in the first place! When I view it in those terms, it doesn't seem like such a sacrifice after all.
As for blessings, I recently told both Kathy Hale and Carole Hoyem this: "The last seven months of my life have been the happiest seven months in my entire life!"
And so, there you have it. What Malachi said does apply to “me too!" (To us too!) While I have had my ups and downs over the past seven months, overall I have been blessed beyond my expectations. I accepted God's challenge—as stated in Malachi—and what He promised came true. Thanks be to God.