April

February 17, 2018

The Challenge of Being in a Service Business

Last month, on January 21, 2018, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening my law practice. I graduated from law school in May 1982, and received my license to practice law in November 1982. Two months later, on January 21, 1983, I rented an office from an established Peoria attorney.

Nine years later (1992), I hired my first associate attorney. At that time, I was 35 years old. The attorney that I hired was 10 years younger than me, and had just graduated from law school.

At the time that I hired the attorney, I had an office manager, two full-time secretaries, a full-time receptionist, and a part-time secretary. Hiring an attorney was a big step for me, and I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about running a business to continue to move forward without some assistance.

The same year that I hired the attorney, I signed a contract with Gerber Business Development Corporation to provide me with coaching on how to properly run and grow my business. I had committed to paying the attorney a large salary and I didn’t want to make any catastrophic mistakes in managing and growing my law firm.

I found out about the Gerber company when I read a book that was written by its founder, Michael Gerber. The title of the book was, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. What Gerber said in his book about small businesses in America hit a raw nerve with me.

I had previously represented several business clients who had done well for a while and then, for one reason or another, had made mistakes that caused their businesses to fail. I had also handled several bankruptcies for individuals who had failed in their own businesses. Many of the businessmen that Gerber wrote about in his book reminded me of my own clients and their failure to succeed in their businesses.

February 10, 2018

The Death of a Special Christ-Like Priest

Georgette and I met on August 4, 1978, when we were both 21 years old. We were married in June 1980, while I was on break from law school. Ten months later, in March 1981, we had our first child, Harry. I graduated from law school in May of the following year.

We moved back to Peoria during the summer of 1982. At that time, Georgette was pregnant with our second child, Anna. I started my law practice in January 1983, and Anna was born the following month. We had our third child, Maria, 13 months later, in March 1984. When Maria was born, I was 26 years old.

It was during this period of time that my mom and my sister Colleen started commenting about how I had become too serious and I needed to lighten up. Colleen is a year and a half younger than me, and of my eight sisters, she was the one I was closest to while we were growing up.

When my mom and sister told me that I had become too serious, I hadn’t realized that my behavior had changed from the young, carefree guy who liked to have a good time and tease other people to an older guy who felt overwhelmed by the burdens of life.

But I wasn’t bothered by their comments about my being too serious. To me, that was what responsible adults did — they grew up and did their best to care for and support their families. In some respects, my mom and my sister were correct. My newfound responsibilities made me feel overwhelmed. At times, I felt as though I was doing well just to keep my head above water. Georgette and I had three babies in three years — Maria was born on Harry’s third birthday — and I was doing my best to support my family while managing my law practice.

Now, more than 30 years later, Georgette and I have 13 grandchildren, with three more on the way. I’m still serious, but I’m having more fun now than I’ve had in years. I’ve given myself permission to lighten up and revert to my childhood when I’m around my grandchildren. Their parents sometimes get irritated with me because they think I get their children riled up too much. But that’s OK with me, because I’m finally able to do what my mom and my sister wanted me to do all those years ago.

February 3, 2018

A Dream & The Greatest Showman

I recently joined my wife and some of our children at a local theater to see the movie, The Greatest Showman. The movie is a musical about the life of P.T. Barnum. It begins when Barnum is a boy. He is the son of a poor tailor who does work for a wealthy man. The man looks down on Barnum and his father, because of their lower-class status.

Barnum is a fun-loving boy who is infatuated with the wealthy man’s daughter. The man knows that Barnum likes his daughter and makes it clear to Barnum that he’ll never be good enough for her. After that, the daughter is sent to finishing school for several years. While she is away at school, she and Barnum continue to keep in contact by writing letters to each other.

Years later, when the daughter returns home from school, she is reunited with Barnum. They end up getting married and starting a family. After borrowing money from a local bank, Barnum buys an old museum building in downtown Manhattan. He then sets up Barnum’s American Museum, which showcases wax figures.

After struggling to make his new business work, Barnum’s children tell him that instead of featuring wax figures, he needs to have characters who are “alive.” Barnum likes the idea and begins searching for and hiring “freaks” to serve as performers. As he is rounding up his new cast of characters, Barnum sings the unique and mesmerizing song, Come Alive.

As Barnum’s new show gains popularity in New York, a reporter for the New York Herald is highly critical of Barnum and his “freak show.” The reporter’s columns about Barnum and his show stir up trouble among certain people in the community, including the upper-class members of the community.

To enhance his reputation with the upper-class, Barnum convinces Philip Carlisle, a local playwright from a wealthy family, to join him in his business. To raise Barnum’s status, Carlisle arranges a trip to Europe for Barnum and his cast of characters to meet Queen Victoria.

January 27, 2018

Why is That Church in a Music Video?

I’ve written before about how I was involved in music during my high school and college years. When I was a senior in high school, I formed a barbershop quartet with three of my friends. I did the same thing in college. While my high school quartet had a limited number of performances, my college quartet performed at several community functions and events.

I’ve always been a big fan of quartets and other a cappella groups. One of the groups that I currently pay attention to is Home Free, an American a cappella singing group that consists of five young men. Home Free got its big break in 2013, when it won a competition on the NBC television show, The Sing-Off. The grand prize that year was $100,000, plus a recording contract with Sony.

Last month, Home Free performed at the Peoria Civic Center. Georgette and I attended the show with some friends. My favorite Home Free song is How Great Thou Art. The music video of the song is posted on YouTube. The video has generated more than 13 million views.

In the video, the group is standing on a hill that is surrounded by several hundred acres of land. The scenery in the background includes cascading slopes and mountains. The beautiful harmony of the group is matched by the gorgeous land that surrounds them. The only building in the video is a small country church, which shows up in a field near the end of the video.

I have the video saved on an iPad that sits on a stand on my bathroom counter. Ordinarily, when I’m in the bathroom in the morning getting ready for work, I use the iPad to play educational, self-improvement, or religious recordings. In the evening while I’m getting ready for bed, I usually use the iPad to listen to music.

My son, Harry, and his wife Kathryn live about five minutes away from where my wife and I live. Because they live so close to us, they’re able to stop by our house to visit on a regular basis. Whenever they stop by for a visit, their two oldest sons, Harry and Liam, immediately start looking around the house for me. Harry is 5 years old and Liam is 3 years old.

January 20, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Practice Patience?

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I complain directly to God about something that’s bothering me. Last week, my frustration with an ongoing issue finally got to the point that one of my thoughts went up to God in the form of a question: Why can’t you just have an angel appear to me in a dream and tell me what to do? I’m tired of playing these cat and mouse games where I’m always struggling to try to figure out what I should do.

Of course, I immediately felt guilty about addressing God in this manner. Who did I think I was? A prophet? King Solomon? Saint Joseph?

But I get extremely frustrated at times, because while I want to do the right thing, I often feel as though I need specific direction from God. Although I’ve always been good at solving problems, I don’t like it when I have to wait on God to reveal pieces of the puzzle that are needed to solve the problem I’m struggling with.

I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons God operates this way is to teach me the virtues of humility and patience. If He sent an angel to tell me how to solve my problems, I wouldn’t need to learn and practice humility and patience. I would simply wait for instructions from the angel and then take credit for being a special child of God.

Most of us fail to realize that in order to really be humble, we must first suffer humiliations. And we must accept whatever humiliations that come our way with love and gratitude. While humility is the most important of all virtues, the virtue of patience has to be among the top five virtues. Why? Because it’s so difficult to put into practice.

Last week, I wrote about the three grades of patience, which are, to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. It would be impossible to put the three grades of patience into practice if we were to try to do it without God’s assistance.

January 13, 2018

The Difficulties That Arise After Years of Marriage

Last week, I wrote about a couple who was having financial problems because of the husband’s inability to work. Here’s what I wrote at the end of the article:
I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. I’ve dealt with hundreds of couples who, after years of marriage, are facing an unexpected crisis. You would think that after being married for 20 or more years, married couples would be more patient and forgiving of each other than they were when they were newly married. But that’s usually not the case. The fact that they’ve spent years together seems to somehow inhibit their ability to practice real patience and forgiveness toward each other.

Instead of being patient and forgiving, they’re extremely frustrated and angry with each other. Why?

When couples get married, there’s always great hope for the future. With that hope comes the expectation that they will be able to work out all their problems. There is also an expectation that they will someday be able to overcome whatever bad habits or deficiencies they have.

Unfortunately, as each year passes, nothing really changes. Husbands and wives stop making the effort that is required to please each other. It’s almost as if they’ve been through too much together. They’re worn out and exhausted. They’ve run out of patience.

I’ve written before about a saying that is common in the business world: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This saying stands for the proposition that the more familiar you are with a person, the more contemptible that person becomes.

Over time, as people in the business world become more familiar with each other, their defects and weaknesses become more evident. They are exposed to and become tired of each other’s excuses, bad habits, broken promises, lack of respect, mood swings, angry outbursts, and lack of appreciation. Before long, their patience wears thin, and the slightest infraction causes them to treat each other with contempt.

January 6, 2018

Something Married Couples Face After Years of Marriage

Last week, I had an appointment with a man — I’ll call him Jim — who hired me eight months ago to represent him on a personal injury case. As usual, Jim brought his wife with him to the appointment. I’ve met with Jim and his wife on four occasions over the past eight months. Jim was injured when a large truck disregarded a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection. Because of his injuries, Jim has not been able to return to work. He’s been without an income for eight months.

Jim and his wife are in their late 30s. He’s a skilled tradesman who has been a member of a trade union for more than 20 years. Jim has never had any problem finding work, primarily because he is willing to travel to other states to work, when necessary. Since the accident, Jim’s financial situation has become progressively worse. He has had to borrow money to support his wife and children, and he also recently cashed in part of his retirement, so he could keep up with his bills.

Prior to the accident, Jim’s wife did not work outside the home. A few months after the accident, she felt that she had no other choice but to get a job, so she applied for and secured a job at a local business.

Each of the times I’ve met with Jim, he’s been upbeat and happy. He’s an intelligent, good-natured person who likes to talk and tell stories. His wife has come to all his appointments and has always been courteous and friendly — until last week.

Last week, when I entered the conference room to meet with them, Jim was the same as he’s always been, but his wife was quiet and had an angry look on her face. Her demeanor indicated to me that she and Jim either argued on the way to my office, or she was fed up with his situation.

I talked to Jim about his condition and he indicated to me that he was still receiving physical therapy three times a week. He said that he probably wasn’t going to be able to return to work for at least another 10 to 12 months. He told me that before the accident, he worked at the same trade for 20 years.

December 30, 2017

What Did Mary Really Know?

Every year during the Christmas Season, there are articles published that are critical of the song, Mary Did You Know. As expected, in early December, Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, published an article with the title, “The Problem With ‘Mary Did You Know.’” In the article, Fr. McTeigue criticized the following lyrics: “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”

Fr. McTeigue’s complaint was that the lyrics imply that Mary was a sinner who needed to be delivered from her sins. This is contrary to Catholic doctrine which states that Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin from the moment of her immaculate conception, which allowed her to be a pure vessel in which the Son of God could be conceived and born without ever having come into contact with sin.

Another article that was published before Christmas stated that the song implies that Mary was not fully aware that she was the mother of God. The article went on to say that anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that Mary possessed knowledge that she was the Mother of God, not only because of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement (Luke 1:26-56), but also because of her “song of praise” — known as “The Magnificat” — which indicated that she was aware of her role in the salvation of mankind. Here are the first two sentences of the Magnificat:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his handmaid. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty, has done great things for me and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)

Whenever I read anything about the life of Mary, I think about a book that I read in the early 1980s, while I was in law school. The title of the book was, The Life of The Blessed Virgin Mary. The content for the book was taken from the recorded visions of the well-known 19th-century Catholic mystic, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774 – 1824).

April 27, 2013

My Life as a Prisoner

PrisonOn the Saturday before Easter in 1969, I picked up the telephone and dialed the number for my Uncle Tony Couri’s house.  At that time, I was 11 years old.  I wanted to ask my cousin Gene Couri, who was the same age as I was, if his family was planning to go to our grandparents’ house for Easter.  Gene and I shared the same grandparents, Tom and Effie Williams, and they had invited their children and grandchildren to join them for dinner on Easter Sunday.

Gene answered the phone with the greeting, “Couri’s Prison!”  I was momentarily stunned by the way he answered the telephone and said, “Gene, does your mom know you answer the phone that way?”  He responded, “Yeah, the warden knows and she told me to stop, but I’m not going to.  I’m a prisoner in her home and all I’m doing is telling the truth when I call it Couri’s prison.”

I immediately identified with what Gene was saying.  There were times when I felt the same way — like a prisoner in my parents’ home.  After talking to Gene, I was tempted to start answering the telephone at my parents’ house the same way — “Williams’ Prison!” — but I knew better.  My situation was worse than Gene’s because in addition to my mom being the warden, when it came to enforcing the rules of the Williams’ prison, my dad never hesitated to act.  Gene didn’t have that problem.  His dad wasn’t the disciplinarian mine was; he left that up to Gene’s mom.

I’ve written before about how I grew up in a family neighborhood.  There were seven houses in the neighborhood, each of which was overseen by a warden.  The dictionary defines a “warden” as “an official charged with special supervisory duties or with the enforcement of specified laws or regulations.”

The seven wardens who enforced the laws in the homes in the neighborhood were all traditional stay-at-home mothers.  The seven wardens were my mom, Kathryn Williams; my grandmother, Effie Williams; my aunts, Marlene Miller, Pat Schelp, Mary Jo Williams, and Marie Ketcham; and my great aunt, Martha Joseph.  Six of the wardens were of Lebanese descent.  The seventh warden, Mary Jo Williams, was an American whose ancestors were Italian.

April 25, 2013

A Crisis of Faith

The dictionary defines “crisis” as “an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending, especially one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.”

Prior to his death, the great theologian and Jesuit priest Fr. John A. Hardon (1914-2000) said that there was a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church.  In summarizing the crisis, he described the three states of mind that exist among different segments of the Catholic population:

1.  Catholics who are in open rebellion against the faith.  They believe that as children they were brainwashed by their parents and teachers to believe in an ancient faith that is no longer supported by modern thought, science, and psychology.  They resent what the church stands for and believe that they are more enlightened than the simpleminded individuals who “bought into” the beliefs of “old world” Catholics.

2.  Catholics who have an emotional attachment to the articles of the faith that suit their own personal needs and desires, while expressing serious doubts about other articles of the faith.  They are the “Cafeteria Catholics” who defiantly refuse to follow the teachings of the church that don’t fit within their own world view.  Two examples of church teachings often rejected are contraception and divorce.

3.  Catholics who do not doubt or seriously reject the faith, but are bewildered, confused, distraught, and worried by what’s going on in the church today.

After asking, “Why did such a crisis come about in the first place?” Fr. Hardon answered his own question by stating, “There is a crisis of faith in the Catholic Church because there has been an intrusion of alien ideas.”

An idea is alien when it openly contradicts a tenet of the Catholic faith.

Some examples of alien ideas that have gained widespread acceptance among Catholics are (1) that Jesus was not divine — that He was only human, which contradicts the belief that God became man in the Person of Jesus Christ; (2) that marriages can and should be dissolved with the freedom to remarry a second or third time after obtaining a divorce, which contradicts the belief that Christian marriage is an indissoluble union between a man and a woman until death; and (3) that couples are benefiting themselves and their families by practicing contraception, which contradicts the belief that contraception obscures and violates the procreative element of a profound and sacred union, and places what is divine, yet very human, completely in the hands of the couple alone.

April 20, 2013

The Pornographic Mind

Trial By FireAfter starting my own law practice in 1983, the first lawyer who hired me to help him with some of his client files was Raymond (Ray) Rose, a well-known Peoria injury and malpractice trial attorney.  In addition to paying me to work on his files, Ray taught me the fundamentals of how to handle clients, question witnesses, conduct depositions, and prepare cases for trial.

Among insurance defense attorneys, Ray was known as the “gentle interrogator.”  He was never aggressive or belligerent when he questioned a witness.  He always behaved like a gentleman and used his friendly and laid-back style of questioning to catch a witness off guard, which allowed him to later maneuver himself into a position where he could discredit the witness.

Shortly after I started doing work for Ray, he gave me a book that he thought I would benefit from reading.  The book, Gunning for Justice, was written by Gerry Spence, who at that time was one of the most famous trial lawyers in America.  In his book, Spence described, in detail, the facts surrounding five separate landmark cases that he had won for his clients.

If I were to name the handful of books that have had the greatest influence on me, Gunning for Justice would be one of them.  Because of its R-rated content and language, it’s not a book I would recommend for children or teenagers, but it is a book that should be read by every new trial attorney.

The most significant lesson I learned from Gunning for Justice was that I had an obligation to be a warrior for my clients, without any fear of what other attorneys, judges, reporters, or anyone else might say or think about me or my clients.  Spence gave me permission to be myself when I tried a case in front of a jury.  He drove home a point that my mom always preached while I was growing up: Regardless of what a person might think or say about me, I have an obligation to boldly tell the truth and speak out for what is right.

April 13, 2013

The Linguistics of Suicide

Suicide-WarrenOn Friday, April 5, Michael Warren, the 27-year-old son of Rick Warren, a well-known evangelical Christian pastor and author, committed suicide.  You may have heard of Rick Warren.  He’s the author of the best-selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, which has been purchased by more than 30 million people worldwide.

Rick Warren is also the founder and pastor of Saddleback Church, which is located in Lake Forest, California.  Saddleback Church is the eighth-largest church in the United States and has over 30,000 members.

Michael Warren was the youngest of Rick and Kay Warren’s three children.  After Michael died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Rick wrote an emotional letter to the members of his church.  In his letter, he asked for “love and prayers,” and said that his son had suffered from years of “mental illness resulting in a deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”

“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.  Today, after a fun evening with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life,” Warren wrote.  The letter was subsequently released to the media the day after Michael’s death.

Within hours of the news being reported on the Internet, hundreds of people posted vicious and hate-filled comments on numerous news-reporting websites.  Most of the comments were directed at Rick Warren personally and vilified him for his opposition to gay marriage.  Some of the comments taunted him by stating that his son was now burning in hell, while others mocked him because the God he believed in had failed to save his son.

Warren’s formal opposition to gay marriage dates back to 2004, when prior to the U.S. general election in November of that year, he sent a letter to Saddleback Church members stating that gay marriage was one of the five “nonnegotiable” issues that had to be considered when voting.

April 11, 2013

The Role of Women in the World

Last week, at a general audience, Pope Francis touched on the role of women in the Catholic church.  He started out by discussing the importance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then, in a bold expression of the importance of women in the church and in society, stated:

Today, however, I would like to dwell … on testimony in the form of the accounts that we find in the Gospels.  First, we note that the first witnesses to this event were the women.  At dawn, they go to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus, and find the first sign: the empty tomb. (Mark 16:1)

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In the professions of faith of the New Testament, only men are remembered as witnesses of the Resurrection, the Apostles, but not the women.  This is because, according to the Jewish Law of the time, women and children were not considered reliable, credible witnesses.  In the Gospels, however, women have a primary, fundamental role. 

Here we can see an argument in favor of the historicity of the Resurrection: if it were invented in the context of that time, it would not have been linked to the testimony of women.  Instead, the evangelists simply narrate what happened: the women were the first witnesses.   This tells us that God does not choose according to human criteria: the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus are the shepherds, simple and humble people, the first witnesses of the Resurrection are women.  This is beautiful, and this is the mission of women, of mothers and women, to give witness to their children and grandchildren that Christ is Risen!  Mothers go forward with this witness!  

What matters to God is our heart, if we are open to Him, if we are like trusting children.  But this also leads us to reflect on how in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord, in following him and communicating His face, because the eyes of faith always need the simple and profound look of love.  The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however!  Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands.  [Emphasis added.]

April 6, 2013

Does It Take Money to Make Money?

Takes Money To Make MoneyYou may have heard of Shark Tank, the television series that premiered on ABC in August, 2009.  The show features business owners who make presentations to five potential investors, who are referred to as “sharks.”  Each of the sharks is an experienced entrepreneur who became wealthy by inventing products or by successfully starting and growing one or more businesses.  Shark Tank is now in its fourth season, and is the most watched television program among 18 to 49-year-olds on Friday nights.

During each show, business owners make individual presentations in an attempt to persuade one of the sharks to invest in his or her business in exchange for an equity share in the business.  After a business owner gives a presentation, each investor has an opportunity to ask questions and make comments.  Most of the time, the investors opt out of the deal, although there are some situations when two investors bid against each other and try to convince a business owner to accept a favorable offer.

The business owners who make presentations on Shark Tank all have one thing in common: they need large sums of money to expand their businesses.  In my opinion, instead of a large infusion of cash, most of the business owners actually have a greater need for the expertise and experience of the investors to help promote and market their businesses.

There is a common belief among small business owners that “it takes money to make money.”  Put any group of business owners together and when one of them says, “It takes money to make money,” the other business owners will all automatically nod their heads in agreement.

When a business is initially started, a loan or an investment of capital is usually needed; however, for most established businesses, an infusion of a large amount of cash can actually be harmful to the business.  A loan postpones the inevitable question that a business owner should be asking: “What do I need to do to fix my business so it can be more profitable?”

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