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.

May 31, 2014

The Life of an Entrepreneur

EntrepreneurIf you’re like me, you probably never heard of Saint Bernardino of Siena (1380–1444).  I learned about him a couple of weeks ago when I read a summary of his life.  His feast day is on May 20, the same day as my birthday.  This year, when I turned 57, I decided that it was time for me to learn about the saint who is honored by the Catholic Church every year on my birthday.

Saint Bernardino was a Franciscan missionary who was considered to be one of the greatest preachers of his time.  He was known throughout Italy for his ability to captivate audiences with his simple and direct style of speaking.  Although he died more than 500 years ago, Bernardino preached against many of the same evils that are plaguing the world today — immodest clothing, gambling, homosexuality, indecent conversation, blasphemy, witchcraft, and the excess of luxurious living.

What surprised me about Bernardino was that in addition to boldly speaking out against the most egregious sins of his time, he also vigorously defended the right of an individual to own private property and to profit from the operation of a business.  Bernardino wrote a book, On Contracts and Usury, which dealt with the economics of the marketplace and the important role of the entrepreneur in making goods available for people to purchase.

The dictionary defines “entrepreneur” as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.”

Bernardino wrote that an entrepreneur is endowed by God with a rare combination of unique gifts that enable him to take risks, work harder than most other people, assume responsibility for complex tasks, and create new efficiencies.  He pointed out that since all callings provide occasions for sin, a person called to be an entrepreneur can choose to act either lawfully or unlawfully.

May 25, 2014

A Corrupt System of Dependency

Last summer while my wife and I were having dinner at a local restaurant, the waitress who was serving our table asked me how everything was going with my law practice.  I looked at her, hesitated, and answered, “It’s going pretty well.”  Since I didn’t recognize her, I asked, “Do you work for a law firm?”  She answered that she had worked at the courthouse for several years before quitting her job.

I asked why she no longer worked at the courthouse and she told me that she had young children at home and was able to make more money by quitting her full-time job.  She explained that after she quit, she applied for rental assistance, food stamps, and Medicaid.  She was subsequently approved for all three programs.

After being approved for government assistance, she applied for and was hired as a part-time waitress at the restaurant.  She explained to me that she was now receiving more money and benefits by working part time than what she was able to bring home while she worked full time at the courthouse.

I thought about the waitress last week when I saw a chart that was included in an article that was written by Wyatt Emerich and published in The Cleveland Current.  The chart includes four examples of income and benefits for a one-parent family of three in the state of Mississippi.  What is most revealing about the chart is that a family with an income of $14,500 per year has more disposable income and benefits than a family that has income of $60,000 per year.

Take a look at the chart that Emerich provided in his article:

Money Earned
The first row of numbers that are shown in parentheses reflects the amount of federal taxes that are paid for the level of income that is listed in the corresponding column.  The next row of numbers shows the cost of childcare for each level of income, and the following row of numbers shows the amount of income taxes that are paid to the State of Mississippi.

May 22, 2014

Mealtime With Our Lord

Dinner with JesusIn a recent Adoration Letter article titled “Too Tired To Care,” I wrote about the importance of making an effort to always keep your mind young, fresh, enthusiastic, and hopeful.  In the article, I mentioned a reporter who had followed Mother Teresa around for several days and was completely exhausted by the end of each day.  The reporter noticed that Mother Teresa, who was more than twice the age of the reporter, appeared to be as fresh and energetic as she was when she started each day.

There was an important point that I failed to mention about what Mother Teresa told the reporter when the reporter asked her how she was able to maintain such a high level of energy.  Mother Teresa explained that her energy came from the Eucharist.  She pointed out to the reporter that she always began her day with a minimum of one hour in the presence of our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Earlier this month, we were reminded in one of the Sunday gospels about how after rising from the dead, our Lord joined two of his disciples on their way to Emmaus.  While engaging in a discussion about what had taken place prior to His death, Jesus provided a detailed explanation of how the scriptures, beginning with Moses and all the prophets, foretold His death and resurrection.

Despite the extensive conversation that took place between Jesus and the two disciples, they did not recognize Him until after they sat down with Him for a meal.

Just as it was necessary for the disciples to spend one-on-one time with our Lord and then actually join Him for a meal before they could have a full understanding and appreciation of who He was and what He was teaching them, it is necessary for us to spend one-on-one time with Him and join Him for a meal before we can understand and appreciate Him.

Mother Teresa knew this little-known secret and put it into practice by spending one-on-one time with our Lord every day in the adoration chapel.  She also frequently joined Him for meals by attending Mass and receiving Holy Communion.  Not only did her daily practice result in a better understanding and appreciation of her Savior, it also provided her with a youthful, energetic, hopeful, and enthusiastic mind and soul.

May 17, 2014

Planting Seeds of Doubt

seeds-of-doubtEarlier this year while I was at a church-related function, I ran into some relatives — a married couple — who are about 20 years older than I am.  After we talked for short time, a priest (who is in his 60s and a friend of the couple) walked up to us and joined in the conversation.

While we were talking, the wife asked the priest if he had seen a recently released documentary that provides explicit details about corruption in the Vatican.  When the priest answered that he had not seen the documentary, the wife proceeded to talk about how appalled she was by what was revealed in the documentary.

The conversation quickly morphed into a discussion about corruption among priests.  The priest launched into a long explanation of how the church needs to change its position concerning marriage.  He said that it is his belief that it’s unreasonable for the church to expect priests to remain celibate for their entire lives.

In addition to the marriage issue, the priest said that he believes that priests should not be ordained until they are at least 45 years old.  He said that when a man is in his 20s, “he’s not mature or experienced enough to understand the seriousness of the commitment that he’s making.”

It appeared to me that the priest and my relatives were in complete agreement on all the topics that were discussed.  I kept quiet during the entire conversation except for one occasion when I challenged the priest to back up one particularly egregious statement that he made about the majority of priests in the diocese of Peoria.

I’m not going to repeat that statement here, but I will tell you that the priest was not able to offer any credible evidence that his statement was true.  He quickly changed the subject when I continued to push him to provide us with the evidence he had to support his statement.

May 10, 2014

Too Tired To Care

TiredLast weekend, Georgette and I attended two First Holy Communion Masses.  The first Mass was on Saturday, and the second was on Sunday.  One of the most refreshing experiences for me is to witness young, innocent seven-year-old children receiving our Lord for the first time.  At that age, children are still bursting with energy, enthusiasm, and hope for the future, and they have not yet been infected with the poisons of cynicism and resentment.

After the Sunday Mass, I said hello to a cousin who had also attended the Mass.  My cousin is in his mid-50s.  Out of habit, I opened my conversation with him by asking, “How have you been?”  His answer was the same answer that he gave me the last time I saw him: “I’m tired.”  “What do you mean you’re tired?  You need to be more like those children over there, full of energy and excitement about life!” I said, as I pointed to the first communicants who were standing together at the altar, posing for a picture.

My cousin didn’t find my comment very amusing.  He didn’t even crack a smile.  Instead, he said, “Yea, it would be nice to be young again, but I really am tired.”  He followed up by asking me the same question I asked him: “How have you been doing?”  I answered that I’ve been doing well.  As I looked at him, it occurred to me that he really did look tired and worn out.

We talked for a while about the economy and our businesses.  His wife ended our conversation when she walked over and reminded him that they needed to get going so they could join their other family members for a party.  We agreed that we would get together soon for breakfast or lunch to catch up on what’s been going on in our lives.

Later that day when I was thinking about my cousin’s response to my initial question, I couldn’t help but think about how our Lord admonished us to be like children: “He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”  Matthew 18:2-4.

May 3, 2014

A Client Who Thought He Was Invincible

InvincibleLast month while I was at a party, I ran into a man that I had assisted with some legal problems in the mid-1980s.   (For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “Mark.”)  When I saw Mark at the party he didn’t look very well to me.  In addition to being extremely thin, his skin looked dull and pasty.

When I asked Mark how everything was going, he told me that last year he was diagnosed with cancer.  He said that he had been receiving chemotherapy which made him so sick that he was constantly vomiting.  He unbuttoned his shirt to show me where a central line had been inserted into his chest so he could be fed intravenously.  He proceeded to tell me that he had an upcoming surgery scheduled for the removal of two tumors.

After listening to what Mark had to say, I asked him the same question that I had asked him on numerous occasions when I represented him during the 1980s: “Have you been praying your rosary every day?”  I already knew what his answer was going to be.  He was going to tell me the same thing he had repeatedly told me during the 1980s when we were in frequent communication.

I was right.  He told me that he wasn’t praying the rosary and then followed up with numerous reasons (excuses) as to why he didn’t have the time to pray.

Mark grew up in a good Catholic home with a mother who had a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.  I think he knew I was right whenever I talked to him about the importance of prayer, but he was too bullheaded to admit that he needed assistance from anyone, including God.

When I represented Mark in the 1980s, he was in his twenties.  He was confident, bold, and aggressive.  In fact, he was so confident, he thought he was invincible.  At that time, I sensed that he was eventually going to get himself into trouble.  I told him that if he didn’t start praying on a regular basis, by the time he was 40, he was going to be in bad shape – spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially.