Stephanie Rische

Stubbing My Toe on Grace

Friday Favorites for January January 17, 2014

Filed under: Friday Favorites — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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For readers from any state in the US…

I loved this—a map with the most famous book from each state. It kind of makes me want to move out of Illinois though. The Jungle? Really? Famous Books Set in Every State Map

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For word lovers…

Are you feeling gusted, gruntled, or sheveled? I didn’t think so. Here’s a list of words with a negative but no opposite: 12 Lonely Negative Words

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For nostalgics with a funny bone…

I promise these photos of people recreating family photos from their childhood as adults will make you laugh. And maybe even try it yourself: Recreating Ridiculous Family Pictures

 

For anyone who needs encouragement to do the right thing…

Great parental advice: “You can’t come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.” Always Go to the Funeral

 

For anyone who has ever felt pressure for their marriage to look one particular way…

Refreshing insights about what spiritual leadership looks like in real life: Spiritual Leadership: A Movement in Three Parts

 

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God with Us December 10, 2013

Filed under: Christmas — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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On the last day my three-year-old nephew was in town for a visit, his grandma and I asked him if there was anything else he wanted to do before he went back home. Without hesitation, he and his big sister replied, “We want to go to BOUNCE TOWN!”

 

For the uninitiated (as I was prior to aunthood), Bounce Town is one of those places with giant inflatable slides and tunnels, moon walks, inflatable castles, and air trampolines. In other words, a dream-come-true for anyone under three feet tall.

 tyler4

 

From the moment we walked in the door, Tyler had my hand gripped in his own chubby fingers. He wanted to go everywhere with “Aunt Eppie,” as he calls me.

 

“Aunt Eppie go with me!” he exclaimed, racing toward the slide as I tried to keep pace.

 

After squirming my way through tunnels made me for people one-third my size and maneuvering around pint-sized torpedoes zipping down the slide, I asked Tyler what he wanted to do next. “Go on the Batman,” he said. “With Eppie!”

 tyler1

 

And so I followed him to the Batman-themed inflatable, again contorting my body through various child-sized portals.

 

Next up was the trampoline. Tyler squealed with delight: “Eppie make me bounce in the air!”

 

By the time our hour had expired, I was sporting two rug burns, several sore muscles, and one headache. But you know what? It was worth every bruise, every bit of pain.

 

Because here’s the thing: Tyler can’t enter my world of work and e-mail and adult conversation and grown-up things. So I entered his world. It wasn’t comfortable—Bounce Town isn’t made for giants like me. But I scrunched my body through the tunnels and small spaces—all so I could be close to this boy I love, all so I could hold his hand, all so we could breathe the same air.

 

On the way home, tired but happy, it hit me that traipsing around Bounce Town in my stocking feet is a pretty good picture of Christmas. God wanted to be with us, but he realized how vast the gap was between us and him. So he entered into the awkward space of a human womb, squeezing himself through a narrow birth canal, experiencing unaccountable pain and discomfort throughout his three decades on earth—all so he could be with us, all so he could enter our world.

 

Immanuel. God with us.

 

Even in the tight, uncomfortable spaces of our earthly Bounce Town.

 

“This is the God of the gospel of grace. A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross, and died whispering forgiveness on us all.”
—Brennan Manning

 

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Gospel Story: A Story of Hope November 22, 2013

Filed under: Gospel Stories — Stephanie Rische @ 4:31 pm
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Two of my great passions in life are helping other people share their stories and seeing God’s extraordinary grace at work through ordinary people. So when I was given the opportunity to be part of the Gospel Stories project at my church, it felt like a beautiful collision of those passions.

marino

Today I’d like to share Ken and Sally’s remarkable story with you.

 

Have you ever felt like life had you around the neck and then started squeezing? You want to cling to hope; you want to believe that God has good plans for you, but all your circumstances seem to indicate otherwise.

 

Ken and Sally Marino know what it’s like to be hit with one blow after the other. But it has been precisely in the midst of some of those challenges that they’ve experienced the depths of God’s faithfulness in keeping his promises.

 

If you are in need of a breath of hope today, we invite you to watch the Marinos’ story. It’s a story of God’s goodness in hard times, a story of laughter and joy where you might expect tears. And ultimately, it’s a story of hope.

 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
—Jeremiah 29:11

 

To watch their story in their own words, see the video here.

 

 

9 Books Every Girl Should Read November 15, 2013

Whether you’re looking for a book for a girl you love or you missed these along the way in your childhood, here are nine of my top titles for girls.

 

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williamsgirls book1

This book offers some profound insights about how love can hurt, but how it’s also what makes you real.

 

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

 

 

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Englegirls book4

I’m not sure if this is an adult book that can also be appreciated by kids or a kids book that can also be appreciated by adults, but it holds up for any age, any generation. I remember reading it and having my eyes opened to the wonder and mystery just under the surface of ordinary life. I also felt a special kinship with Meg, who doesn’t seem to fit in with her peers but finds herself uniquely equipped to deal with another world once she arrives there—a world she never even dreamed of.

 

 

The Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patersongirls book6

This was the first book I remember reading that didn’t have a happy ending. Although I felt indignant about it at the time, I grew to appreciate the beautiful picture of friendship painted in this book and how the characters’ grief prepared me to face my own losses.

 

 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnettgirls book5

This book serves as a reminder that friendship can blossom just as surely as flowers do, that miracles are possible, and that hope is worth clinging to.

 

“Is the spring coming?” he said. “What is it like?” . . .  


“It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine.”

 

 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcottgirls book9

I think every girl has a little bit of Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy in her. These sisters helped me grow up and figure out who I was, and they showed me how to stay true to what I stood for.

 

 

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomerygirls book2

I read this series so many times the books are now practically falling apart. After I read each book as a kid, I’d give it to my grandmother (she of the red hair and the spunky personality, just like Anne) and we’d talk about it together. Looking back, I suppose it was my first impromptu book club.

 

 

Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wildergirls book8

I must have overlooked the parts about dysentery, the lack of indoor plumbing, and the absence of central air, but I desperately wanted to go back in time so I could be Laura. This book offers a poignant snapshot of a particular era in our country’s history, and it’s rich with themes of family relationships and the tough times can help us learn and grow.

 

“There’s no great loss without some small gain.”

 

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Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

This book is pure fun. My sister and I loved wearing colorful stockings and putting our hair in pigtails, Pippi style.

 

 

Winnie the Horse Gentler by Dandi Daley Mackallgirls book7

This book came into my life when I was an adult, like a long-lost friend, but it’s a story every girl should read. Horse lover or not, every girl will connect with the ups and the downs of being a kid, the longing for friendship, and the way the funny moments of life weave together with the more serious ones.

 

 

What were your favorite books as a kid? I’d love to hear your list.

 

Passing on the Good Story October 8, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:03 am
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robin4I had the privilege of writing for Pick Your Portion recently. Here’s what I shared about my grandmother’s unexpected gift . . .

 

 

Last weekend the women in my family got together to celebrate the upcoming birth of my sister’s baby. We don’t know the name or the gender yet, and we don’t know this little one’s hair color or personality or special talents. But one thing is for certain: this baby is already incalculably loved.

 

We sat around the living room sipping raspberry punch long after the shower was over, telling stories about Meghan as a baby and retelling family lore—about sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings. At one point I just sat there looking at all the beloved faces, trying to let the moment soak in. There were four generations represented in that room—my grandmother, my mom and a smattering of aunts, my sister, and the baby we were eager to meet.

 

robin1The guests had been asked to bring a book they’d loved as children, and the selections were a delightful mix of classic and modern, serious and fanciful, playful and deep. Then Meghan opened the last gift, unobtrusively tucked in a small bag at the back of the pile. As soon as she revealed the contents, the room drew in a collective breath.

You can read the rest of the story here.

 

 

 

 

Happy (Thirty) Sixth Birthday to Me October 4, 2013

Filed under: birthday — Stephanie Rische @ 7:46 am
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Thirty years ago today—my 6th birthday—the Worst Birthday Disaster Ever turned into my Best Birthday Party Ever. (Because obviously, when you’re six, the world is one big superlative.)

 

When September rolled around, Mom said, “It’s time to start thinking about your birthday!” just as she did every year. So we sat down at the kitchen table and went through the annual checklist to pull off a party personalized just for me. And as always, I felt like the most special girl in the whole world.

 

What theme do you want for your party? (I must have had some undue influence from Rainbow Brite, because the theme always seemed to include some variation of rainbows and hearts.)

 

What shape do you want for your cake? (Yes, Mom made it from scratch.)

 

What flavor do you want for the cake? (Cherry. Every single time.)

 

Everything was nailed down, and I could feel my little heart fluttering in anticipation.

 

But then came the final question:

Who do you want to invite to your party?

 

I swallowed hard. “Mom,” I said, “I wish my birthday was in the spring, not the fall.”

 

She looked at me quizzically. “Why, honey?”

 

“It’s too early in the year. I don’t have friends yet.”

 Birthday 1-1

 

And it was true. I was the slow-to-warm-up kid, the shy girl, the one who stood on the outskirts at recess until she worked up the confidence to break in sometime around second semester.

 

Mom didn’t miss a beat. “No problem,” she said. “We’ll just invite all the girls in your class.”

 

There was no trace of panic in her eyes, but looking back now, I have to wonder if she was secretly hyperventilating. How on earth would she fit 16 girls in our house?

 

But at the age of almost-six, I didn’t notice. My eyes were already dancing with visions of hearts and rainbows. In an instant, through the magic of Mom’s words, I’d gone from having zero friends to having 15.

 

And when it was time to blow out the candles on my heart-shaped cake, surrounded by every single girl in my class, I felt so happy I might as well have swallowed a rainbow whole. For once, everything seemed so perfect I could hardly think of anything to wish for. I remember offering a halfhearted wish for the ultimate icing on the day: an actual rainbow in the sky.

 

But I have a hunch God gave priority to a mom’s prayers in that moment. A mom who was whispering prayers for the heart of a little girl who wanted a friend. A mom who was making a wish herself—for a day free of rain (and accompanying rainbows) so there would be room for 16 little girls in party hats at the table outside.

 

This is 30 years late, but thanks, Mom. Thanks for the Best Birthday Party Ever.

 Birthday 2-1

 

Raspberry Harvest September 17, 2013

Filed under: Faith,Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:13 am
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Among the mental snapshots that defined summer for me as a child were those 100-degree days at my grandparents’ house. We’d spend all day outside—playing shuffleboard, running through the sprinkler, and going boating on the river.

 

But some of my most cherished memories were the afternoons in my grandfather’s raspberry patch. I loved the sweet tang of Grandpa’s raspberries in all forms—in homemade raspberry jam, in a bowl with cream, in Grandma’s array of luscious pastries and desserts. But my favorite way to eat the raspberries was straight off the vine, under the hot desert sun.

 Grandpa 2

***

 

My grandpa’s dementia has been creeping in over the past decade or so, and his once immaculate garden has now almost entirely surrendered to weeds and grass. There are no more army-straight rows of tomatoes or cucumbers, and his herb patch is no more than a memory. But somehow his raspberry bushes are still there—still producing fruit, still offering their ripe summer gifts.

 

I went to visit my grandparents over the summer, and on one 100-degree afternoon, with the desert sun smiling down on neck just the way I remembered from my childhood, I went out to the raspberry bushes with Grandpa to fill our little green baskets.

 

Grandpa struggles with basic tasks now, and on the way from the garage to the raspberry patch, he turned to me more than once to ask, “Now what are we supposed to be doing?”

 Grandpa 1

 

But the moment we got to the raspberry bushes, his motor memory kicked in, and he started picking like the efficient gardener I remember. I’d finish a raspberry bush, feeling confident I’d gotten all the ripe ones, and Grandpa would come along behind me, quietly filling his basket with all the hidden berries I’d missed.

 

***

 

We celebrated my grandparents’ 60th anniversary while I was there, and one night at dinner, as I looked around the huge table filled with their family—all the people who wouldn’t have been possible without them—I marveled at the harvest they are reaping after more than half a century together.

 

I looked at Grandpa’s daughter and her two children who all share his love of singing and who grace others with that gift as well.

 

I looked at my cousin with the mechanically wired mind, the curiosity to take things apart and put them together again—just like Grandpa.

 

I looked at my brother—the leader with the servant-heart—and saw my grandpa reflected in another generation.

 

I looked at my sister and my cousin—the ones with the big hearts and much love for people—and felt sure Grandpa must be proud.

 

I looked at his daughters who have sacrificed much and loved their families well, just as their father before them has done.

 

And as we toasted Grandma and Grandpa with generous slices of chocolate cake, it struck me that although Grandpa isn’t able to do much sowing right now, he’s reaping a harvest of all he’s planted over these 80-plus years. All those labors of love, all the watering and tending and patience and gentle pruning—it’s paying off now in the legacy he leaves to his children, his grandchildren, and his great-grandchildren.

 

So thank you, Grandpa. Thank you for all your years of faithfulness. Because of you, future generations will keep reaping what you planted. I’m so grateful to be one of the shoots tended in that soil.

 Grandpa 3

 

Let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.

—Galatians 6:9

 

Learning to Fall September 10, 2013

Filed under: Faith — Stephanie Rische @ 8:16 am
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Daniel and I recently attended a family celebration in honor of his nephew’s first birthday. Colin himself was underwhelmed by the occasion (although he was pretty excited about the chocolate cake and the ensuing opportunity to make a mess with the frosting). Eventually, with some enticement from us grown-ups, he did start getting into the gifts (or at least the wrapping paper and boxes), but for the most part he didn’t seem to know what all the fuss was about.

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After the birthday boy went to bed, the rest of us sat around the table reflecting on how much Colin had changed over the past year—and how much he had changed us. As we talked, it occurred to me that the celebration of the first year is as much about the people who love the kid as it is about the kid himself.

 

We went around the table listing adjectives that describe our 15 pounds of charm and came with this list: adventurous, determined, focused, sweet, flexible, curious, daring, funny, hammy, independent, cuddly. And fearless.

 

There was no question about fearless. In fact, he’d proved it earlier that day at his own party.

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Perhaps we owe Colin’s impeccable timing to the fact that he’s a bit of a ham, but sure enough, he waited to take his first steps until there was an adequate audience. Then, right between cake and presents, he stood up on the blanket in the grass and showed off his first steps to the adoring crowd, over and over again. The more we clapped and cheered him on, the braver he became, the more consecutive steps he took.

 

As I watched him learn to walk—toppling to the side, lunging forward into his mom’s arms, or plopping backward with only his diaper for padding—I thought how smart God is to have us learn this rather treacherous skill as babies. Colin doesn’t have enough life experience yet to be afraid. He doesn’t know that falling and failing are pretty much guaranteed when you’re learning something new. And he doesn’t know how much it can hurt sometimes.

walk2

 

I have a few years on Colin, but there are some things I need to learn from him (or maybe things I need to unlearn). Because here’s the thing: when I try so hard to prevent myself from falling—to self-protect from failure and pain—I miss out on the next steps, the new adventures God has in mind for me. And I deprive myself of the thrill of lunging forward, childlike, into the arms of grace—into the arms of someone who loves me.

 

So here’s to Colin. Here’s to being one, to being fearless. Here’s to toddling—to falling and failing. If that’s what it takes to learn the next baby steps before me, then count me in.

 

But I still may look into some padding for my backside, if it’s all the same to everyone else.

 

walk3

 

We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.

—2 Corinthians 4:9

 

Shine September 6, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 8:15 am
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{Last weekend we celebrated the upcoming birth of my sister’s baby with a small family gathering, a few gifts, and some raspberry punch. I took advantage of the opportunity to brag a little about my kid sister, and I thought I’d share those thoughts here. She’s going to be a great mom, don’t you think?}

shower1

 

Ever since Meghan was a baby, we could all tell there was something special about her. Yes, she was determined and tough and always on the go, right from the beginning. But there was something else about her too . . . a brightness and a warmth about her that attracted people to her. It was like she’d swallowed sunshine and it couldn’t help but beam out of her. As she grew up, it became clear that she reflected God’s light in a beautiful, unique way.

 

When I think about Meghan, one word that always comes to mind is shine. For as long as I can remember, she has lived out this verse:

Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
—Matthew 5:16

 

Let me tell you a story as a case in point. When Meghan was about four years old, she was very serious about her piggy bank. She saved every penny and guarded against conniving older siblings who might try to convince her to trade her measly little dimes for their big nickels (hypothetically speaking, of course). She never spent her money, even if there was a special toy she had her sights set on.

 

But then one day she overheard the rest of the family talking about kids who didn’t have enough money for basic things like food and clothing. She didn’t say anything, and the rest of us didn’t know she’d been following the conversation. But later that night, at bedtime, she went to Mom, eyes wide.

 

“Here, Mom,” she said, handing over her entire piggy bank, with every dime in it.

 

Mom looked her, confused.

 

“It’s for the kids,” Meghan said.

 

Kyle and I stared in wonder. This kid was shining already, at the age of four.

 

As Meghan grew up, her shine factor only grew brighter. She shone at school, on the basketball court, on the tennis court, with her friends, in leadership positions. She didn’t preach much, but she didn’t need to. Her actions were a winsome reflection of the God she served so faithfully and wholeheartedly.

 

One of the clearest snapshots in my mind of this shining sister of mine was before each college track meet. Mom and Dad and I attended almost every meet, and we always arrived early (largely due to Dad’s nerves). It was a fascinating study to observe the athletes in their pre-competition rituals. Each athlete’s routine was different, but there were some common threads: each person was focused and serious, and you could tell by the way they looked at their competitors that they were sizing them up to see if they should be scared of them or if they could squash them like bugs.

 

Then there was Meghan. If I ever wondered where she was before a meet, I could be sure to find her at the side of her fiercest competition. But she was neither quaking in her running spikes nor engaging in intimidation strategies. Rather, she was trying to turn her competitor into a friend. Certainly, she was focused and determined and playing to win. But she also knew there are some things that are more important than winning. As proud as I am of her athletic accomplishments, I’m even more proud of the way she shone at those meets, win or lose.

 

shower3

 

Then, to our amazement and delight, Meghan met a fellow track star (pun intended) named Ted, who shone the way she did—on the track, with his teammates and classmates, with his Young Life students.

 

Meghan and Ted continue to shine now—with their coworkers, at their church, in their neighborhood. Everyone who sees them can tell there is something different about them—something that sets them apart. Even if people can’t put their finger on what it is exactly, we know that their shine comes from the way they reflect the light of their heavenly Father.

 

And now, as I think about this baby, I can’t help but think how blessed this kid will be to have parents who shine the way Meghan and Ted do. I don’t know exactly how God’s light will shine in and through this child, but I believe God will use this kid in incredible ways to bring his light into this dark world.

 

So now I’d like to share a “shine blessing” with Meghan and the baby now. These are the words that God told Moses’ brother, Aaron, to say as a blessing over the Israelites, and it’s the same words mom used to say over us at the bus stop before we went to school.

May the Lord bless you
and keep you;
May the Lord make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
May the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.
—Numbers 6:24-26

 

So please come meet us soon, Baby. Your auntie can’t wait to see the way you shine.

 

shower2

 

The Gift of Presence June 17, 2013

Filed under: Family — Stephanie Rische @ 1:12 pm
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Dad #1crop

 

When I was fifteen, I decided to exchange my gymnastics leotard for a basketball jersey. There was just one little problem (and I do mean little): I was barely four foot eleven, with shoes on.

 

I practiced hard that season, but whenever game time came, I warmed the bench. With the rare exception of a major blowout, my sub-five-foot frame didn’t see any action on the court the moment the game clock started.

 

But my dad . . . my dad was at every game. Every. Single. Game. He’d leave work early and sit up in the bleachers with my mom, still in his dress shirt and tie. All so he could watch me warm the bench.

 

When I came out of the locker room with the team before each game, I’d find him in his usual spot—left side, near the back—and he’d flash our family’s secret signal, which, roughly translated, meant, “Hey, I see you. I’m here.”

 

He was there, even though we all knew I wouldn’t be out there shooting or dribbling or passing or doing any of the other things he’d been helping me with in our hoop out back.

 

And he was there after each game for his trademark “postgame talk” when I was feeling discouraged after yet another four quarters of not even taking off my warm-up jacket.

 

“We’ll keep practicing,” he told me. “Just wait—you’re going to be a starter one of these days.”

Dad #2crop

 

***

 

Right around that time, I found myself plunged into the waters of teenage awkwardness, and along the way, I started losing track of how to connect with my dad. I was self-conscious in my own skin, clumsy about hugging him, so we mostly exchanged fist bumps instead. I didn’t quite know how to talk to him about the things that made up my world either—friend drama, boys, how I was trying to sludge through this new space to figure out who I was and where I fit in. How could we show love to each other surrounded by so much awkward?

 

But Dad found a way. I’m sure I didn’t realize what was happening back then, but each time he showed up, each time he watched me sit the bench, he was giving me a rare gift: the gift of presence. He was there, and there said, “I love you.”

 

***

 

All through the next summer, Dad coached me as I relearned my basketball shot. It was brutal at first, but he was right—it paid off. My senior year, when they announced the starting lineup for my team, there was a new jersey out on the court—number ten, measuring in at barely five feet tall. When they called my name, I ran out onto there, shoes squeaking on the hardwood, my eyes scanning the stands for one face.

 

He was there, of course. I flashed Dad the trademark family signal and grinned to myself. I’d been wishing for this moment for a long time, but when it arrived, I realized that what I’d needed most had been there all along.

 

“The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Sometimes love is complicated, multilayered. Sometimes it means having deep talks and hashing everything out. But other times love is simple. Sometimes love is just showing up.

 

dad and me

So Happy Father’s Day, Dad. Thanks for teaching me how to shoot a basketball. Thanks for watching all my games. Most of all, thanks for always showing up. (And by the way, I didn’t get you anything for Father’s Day, so please consider this your gift.)