February 24, 2018

I’ll Believe It When I See It

Last week, I wrote about one of the challenges that I have as a lawyer, which is the failure of many of my clients to understand the nature and extent of the work I do for them. Much of what I do as an attorney is hidden from my clients.

When I represent a client on a personal injury case, if I’m able to get the case settled without having to file a lawsuit, it customarily takes from 18 to 22 months to conclude the case. If it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit, it can take up to five years from the date of the injury to get the case resolved.

During the time that I work on a client’s case, there is not much that I do that my client can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. At the end of the case when I collect my fee, which can at times be substantial, I want my clients to understand the breadth and scope of the work that I performed for them. So what is it that I can do to help them understand the extent of the work that I do on their behalf?

From the beginning of time, man has been a visual creature. The serpent seduced Eve to bite into the apple in part because it was so visibly appealing. I suppose you could call the serpent the first advertising and marketing expert that ever existed. He crafted a compelling and irresistible message that enticed Eve to defy God.

After he described the apple as being beautiful, delicious, and life changing, he appealed to her pride by saying, “All you have to do is bite into it to be like God.” There is no doubt that the tree and its apples were beautiful and inviting to the eye. But it was her ability to actually see in her imagination the future that the serpent painted for her — a future that promised that she and Adam would have the same powers as their God — that convinced her to act.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what Saint Thomas said after our Lord’s apostles reported to him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Our Lord later reprimanded him for his lack of faith and said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:29

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.

January 25, 2014

Fake Money vs. Real Money

Silver American Eagle CoinLast week, USA Today ran a story about how leaders of the American Postal Workers Union are outraged about a pilot program that the U.S. Postal Service is testing in four states.  The Postal Service has arranged for the installation of 84 postal counters to operate within Staples office supply stores in California, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

The union leaders are upset because they fear that if the pilot program is successful, the Postal Service will expand the program to more than 1,500 other Staples’ stores.  The union is demanding that the postal counters be run by postal workers who earn an average of $25 an hour, plus health and retirement benefits.  The current plan is for Staples to staff the counters with nonunion workers who will make little more than minimum wage.

With a loss of more than $5 billion last year, the only reasonable option that is available to the Postal Service is to either reduce labor costs, or cut back on the number of days that mail is delivered.  The Postal Service simply cannot continue to absorb multibillion-dollar losses every year.

The handwriting is on the wall.  It’s only a matter of time before government employee unions are forced to endure the same losses of jobs and benefits that employees in the private sector have had to deal with over the past 20 years.

The golden years are over for the retirement system that was put into place by private industry and local, state, and federal governments after World War II.  With the globalization of the economy and the forced discounting of prices caused by online advertising, companies can no longer afford to fund pension plans for employees.  Although it may take another 15 to 20 years for all the changes to catch up with government employees, those employees are going to eventually suffer the same fate as the employees in the private sector have suffered.

January 22, 2014

The Queen of Titles

The dictionary defines the word “title” as “an appellation of dignity, honor, distinction, or preeminence attached to a person or family by virtue of rank, office, precedent, privilege, attainment, or lands.”  It is said that the Blessed Virgin Mary has more than 1,000 titles, a handful of which are: Mother of God, Queen of Heaven, Seat of Wisdom, Mirror of Justice, Vessel of Honor, Cause of Our Joy, Gate of Heaven, Morning Star, and Comforter of the Afflicted.

All the Blessed Mother’s titles identify her with dignity, honor, distinction, and preeminence.  They are attached to her by virtue of her unique relationship with the three persons of the Blessed Trinity.  She is the daughter of God the Father, spouse of the Holy Spirit, and mother of God the Son.  No other human in the history of the world has ever been recognized by so many titles.

Of all her titles, which one do you think would be most descriptive of her life?  Which one would best reflect the role she plays in our lives?

In my opinion, the one title that is most descriptive of the Blessed Virgin Mary is “Our Lady of Sorrows.”  There is a feast day that is dedicated to her as Our Lady of Sorrows, which falls on September 15, the day after the Feast of the Cross.

The word “sorrow” is defined as “a deep distress, sadness, or regret especially for the loss of someone or something loved.”  Synonyms for the word sorrow include “affliction, anguish, grief, and heartache.”

There is only one word that can adequately describe a mother who personally witnessed the torture and murder of her innocent son: sorrowful.  The Blessed Virgin Mary understands, at a deep level, distress, sadness, affliction, anguish, grief, and heartache.  Because of the personal suffering she endured — combined with her role as the mother of mankind — she is the ideal person to assist you and me with our sorrows.

January 18, 2014

Bitcoins, Money, and Digital Savings Accounts

BitcoinYou may have heard of bitcoins, a digital currency that is being used by various individuals to purchase items on the Internet.  There are a lot of people who think that the adoption and use of bitcoins is a solution to some of the problems caused by the runaway creation of money by various governments throughout the world.  I have my doubts about the viability of this so-called new form of money.  Here’s how Wikipedia describes Bitcoin:

Bitcoin is a peer-to-peer payment system and digital currency introduced as open-source software in 2009 by pseudonymous developer Satoshi Nakamoto.  It is a cryptocurrency, so-called because it uses cryptography to control the creation and transfer of money.  Users send payments by broadcasting digitally signed messages to the network.  Participants known as miners verify and timestamp transactions into a shared public database called the block chain, for which they are rewarded with transaction fees and newly minted bitcoins.  Conventionally “Bitcoin” capitalized refers to the technology and network whereas “bitcoins” lowercase refers to the currency itself.  Bitcoins can be obtained by mining or in exchange for products, services, or other currencies.

Now that you’ve read the definition of what a bitcoin is, do you think you would be able to explain what it is to another person?

Until a couple of months ago, the U.S. government was against the use of bitcoins as a valid currency; however, in November 2013, U.S. authorities endorsed the use of bitcoins as currency by calling them “legitimate.”

In our modern age, an endorsement of a new outside currency by a government can only mean one thing — that the government has figured out a way to manipulate the new currency.

Like all other currencies that exist in the world today, bitcoins are not backed up by anything of value, such as gold, silver, or any other tangible asset.  A bitcoin is simply an electronic blip that no one can see or trace.

January 12, 2014

Is There a Cure for Depression?

Depression CureThe psychiatry journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA Psychiatry) recently published the results of a study that revealed that people who are at high risk of depression and believe that religion or spirituality is important are less likely to suffer from depression.  The results of the study showed that the cerebral cortex of each of the brains of the people who were less likely to suffer from depression was thicker.  The cerebral cortex is the outermost layer of the brain.

The study was conducted with 103 adult participants, all of whom were children or grandchildren of a previous group of people who had participated in an earlier study of depression.  The individuals who had a family history of depression were considered to be at high risk for depression, while the individuals with no history were used as a control group.

Over a period of five years, religious and spiritual importance were assessed, and images of the participants’ brains were captured by magnetic resonance imaging.  The high-risk participants who indicated that they were not particularly religious or spiritual had much thinner cortices and struggled with depression.  The participants who were religious or spiritual had thicker cortices and exhibited more resilience in dealing with and overcoming depression.

Although the report was not conclusive, the study suggested that religiosity or spirituality actually enhances a person’s brain in a way that helps the person deal with and overcome depression.

The study was performed by researchers from the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University.  Myrna Weissman, a professor of psychiatry and epidemiology at Columbia University and one of the individuals who worked on the study, commented, “The brain is an extraordinary organ.  It not only controls but also is controlled by our moods.  Our beliefs and our moods are reflected in our brain, and with new imaging techniques we can begin to see this.”

January 4, 2014

Catching Fire in the New Year

Catching FireLast week I saw the movie, Catching Fire, with Georgette and two of our daughters, Mary and Teresa.  Catching Fire is based on the second book of The Hunger Games trilogy, and picks up where the original movie, The Hunger Games, left off.  Following the events of the first movie, the main character, Katniss Everdeen, returns home to her mother and sister.

When she enters her mother’s house, Katniss is greeted by government officials, one of whom is President Snow, the dictatorial leader of the nation of Panem.  Snow is upset with Katniss because she tricked the person who was in charge of the games into changing the rules so she and one of her competitors, a young man from her district, could both be permitted to live (rather than one of them having to be killed by the other).

Snow is angry because Katniss’s defiance of the government inspired citizens from several of the districts to rebel against the government.  Snow fears that there will be a widespread rebellion among the citizens that accelerates into a revolution against his government.  He threatens Katniss and tells her how she is to behave when she goes on a previously planned victory tour.  Snow makes it clear to Katniss that if she goes against his wishes, her family members and friends will be persecuted or killed.

Within days of Snow’s meeting with Katniss, riots break out in some of the districts of Panem.  Snow blames Katniss for the riots.  In a meeting with another government official, Plutarch Heavensbee, the following conversation takes place:

President Snow: She’s not who they think she is.  She just wants to save her skin.  It’s as simple as that.  She has become a beacon of hope for them.  She has to be eliminated.  What do you think?

Plutarch Heavensbee: I agree she should die but in the right way, at the right time.  Katniss Everdeen is a symbol.  We don’t have to destroy her, just her image.  Show them that she’s one of us now.  Let them rally behind that.  They’re going to hate her so much they just might kill her for you.