January

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 30, 2016

A Merciful Savior Intervenes

Dumit GhantousLast week, I published a tribute that my wife, Georgette, had written about her father, Dumit Ghantous. Georgette’s dad passed away on January 19, 2016. I met Dumit on August 4, 1978, when I was 21 years old. I remember the date because it was the same day I met Georgette. We met in Indianapolis, Indiana, at the Midwest Federation Lebanese Convention. From the moment I met Dumit, he treated me like I was a member of his family.

Dumit was a very unique man who was blessed with the ability to connect in a special way with everyone he met. He was very outgoing and was energized by being around other people. He had a way of showing people that he genuinely cared about them. He was a master at making people feel good about themselves.

Dumit was a tailor by trade. He loved to sing, dance, and play his oud. An oud is a pear-shaped stringed instrument that is most commonly used in the Middle East. Dumit had the ability to pick up his oud and while playing it, create a beautiful love song out of thin air about his wife, one of his children, or one of his grandchildren.

On the morning of January 6, 2016, one of Georgette’s sisters called her on the telephone and told her that Dumit’s heart had stopped beating because of a sudden cardiac arrest. One of the family members had already called 911 and there were paramedics at Dumit’s house attempting to revive him. The paramedics were able to get his heart going again and he was rushed to the hospital.

Upon arriving at the hospital, Dumit was hooked up to a ventilator. A ventilator is a machine that is designed to mechanically move breathable air into and out of a person’s lungs. It is used on patients who are physically unable or incapable of breathing on their own.

The same day that Dumit was admitted into the hospital, Georgette posted a request on Facebook for prayers. Within hours, word spread throughout the local Catholic and Lebanese communities, as well as the worldwide Lebanese community. Georgette heard from relatives from different parts of the world, including California, Australia, and Lebanon. Our best estimate is that there were over 1,000 people praying for Dumit and his family.

January 23, 2016

A Tribute to Dumit Ghantous

Kingdom of GodOn January 19, 2016, my wife’s father, Dumit Ghantous, passed away. She gave a eulogy at the end of his funeral Mass. I wanted to share with you what she said about her father. Here’s what she said:

____________________

When I was a young girl, whenever we had a family party or gathering, my father, Dumit Ghantous, would always come up to me and say, “It’s time for you to go thank all the people who are here and let them know how much we appreciate and love them.” My dad loved giving speeches, and he loved to hear his children give them. He would want me to come up here today and thank you.

I could stand up here and talk for hours about my dad, and so could most of you. But today, I would like to tell you about the three most important lessons that I learned from my dad.

The first lesson I learned from my dad relates to his faith.

First and foremost, my dad was a man who always trusted in God to lead him. Dad and Mom came to America in 1956 looking to make a better life for themselves and their families. My dad told me once that before he boarded the airplane to come to America, he prayed, “Oh my God, I have only you, my wife, and my daughter. Whatever you direct me to do, I will follow. Please go before me and show me the way.”

When my parents arrived in Peoria, they could not speak, read, or write in English. The only person they knew was my mom’s uncle, Tony Romanous. The only forms of long-distance communication at that time were very expensive phone calls and air mail. Air mail often took up to two weeks to deliver a letter to Lebanon.

In addition to having to adapt to a new language and culture, my dad had a more immediate problem he had to deal with — my mom’s loneliness for her family. Because of her immense sadness, my dad mailed several handwritten letters each week to his brother-in-law, Fred Khattar. Fred was married to my mom’s sister, Jeanette.

January 16, 2016

A Trip Into The Shark Tank

Shark TankI’ve written before about Shark Tank, the television series that premiered on ABC in August, 2009. The show which is currently in its 7th season, features business owners who make presentations to five potential investors. The investors are referred to as “sharks.” Each of the sharks is an experienced entrepreneur who became wealthy by successfully starting and growing multiple businesses.

During each show, business owners make presentations to the sharks in an attempt to persuade one or more of them to invest in the 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 refuse to invest in the business by declaring “I’m out.”

The only time that I’m usually able to set aside time to watch Shark Tank is when I’m exercising or when I take a break at work to have something to eat. I recently watched an episode that originally aired in 2014. The person who made the presentation to the sharks was Talia Goldfarb, the founder and owner of Myself Belts. Talia’s business manufactures and sells colorful, easy-to-use belts for children.

Talia reported to the sharks that she had been in business for ten years. After being questioned by the sharks, she revealed that during the previous three years, there had been a decline in total sales revenue. During the previous year, her total sales were $205,000. When Talia was asked why her sales were declining, she said

During the last three years we’ve had a slight decline because we sell online and also mainly through independent boutiques. When the recession hit, we found a lot of our boutiques were struggling. They really were being more conservative. Even a big catalog we were in went bankrupt. I didn’t want to be wasting my money and spinning my wheels knocking on people’s doors who did not want to take anyone’s call. We decided to kind of put a pause and to focus online, and to weather out the storm.

January 9, 2016

It’s Not My Fault!

FaultThere were two scenes in the second Star Wars movie, The Empire Strikes Back, that I remember very clearly. The movie was released in May 1980, the same month that I finished my first year in law school. In the first scene, Han Solo is in his spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, with his co-pilot Chewbacca (Chewy), and Princess Leia.

They are being fired upon by the enemy ship, the Star Destroyer, and Han yells out, “Let’s get out of here. Ready for light speed? One, two, three…” At that point, Han pulls back on the hyperspace throttle and nothing happens. He then shouts, “It’s not fair!” Chewy becomes angry and growls at Han while Han desperately pulls on the throttle. Han then exclaims, “The transfer circuits are working. It’s not my fault!” Leia reacts by asking “No light speed?” Han again shouts, “It’s not my fault!

Later in the movie Lando Calrissian, Chewy, and Princess Leia are in the Millennium Falcon being pursued by the Star Destroyer. Lando says to Chewy, “Ready for light speed.” Leia then says, “If your people fixed the hyper drive. All coordinates are set. It’s now or never.” Lando gives the order to Chewy to pull back on the throttle. When Chewy pulls the throttle, nothing happens. Lando reacts by shouting, “They told me they fixed it. I trusted them to fix it. It’s not my fault!

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, men and women have attempted to avoid responsibility by declaring “It’s not my fault!” After Adam and Eve defied God, Eve claimed that it wasn’t her fault because she was simply doing what the serpent told her to do. Adam claimed it wasn’t his fault because Eve told him it was okay to take a bite of the apple.

I’m sure you’ve met people who have claimed that they were unable to correct a certain behavior or habit because they were born with a certain trait. Or they may have claimed that other factors that were outside their control were to blame. One example would be the person who is chronically late for work and says, “I got that from my dad’s side of the family” or “That’s just the way I am” or “I didn’t get much sleep last night” or “I can’t help it, I’m doing the best I can.”

January 2, 2016

Some Unexpected Help With A Problem

APC-SMT1000On January 1, after I went to Mass and had lunch with my family, I headed to my office with the intention of cleaning up the stacks of files, papers, magazines, audio CDs, and other miscellaneous items that had piled up during 2015.

At my office, I have ten computers that are connected to a server. The server is a heavy-duty computer that is built specifically to store data and to act as a main hub for the computers that are connected to it. Each of my employees has a computer at their desk. Whenever anyone in my office creates a document or works on a software program, the data is saved and stored on the server.

The server has networking software that allows several people to work within the same software program at the same time. When data is saved on a computer, someone on another computer is able to see the saved data on their computer. One example of how this works is our calendar program. If one of my employees schedules an appointment for me, as soon as the data is saved, I am able to see the appointment on my computer.

The server has two power cords that have to be plugged into an electrical outlet. Instead of plugging the power cords directly into a wall outlet, they are plugged into an “APC Smart-UPS 1000” unit. “UPS” stands for “unlimited power supply.”

The UPS has eight outlets that are built into the back of the unit. In addition to the two power cords from the server being plugged into the UPS, there are other electronic hardware devices that are plugged into the UPS, such as a firewall that protects the server from hackers, and a router that allows the computers that are connected to the server to access the Internet.

The primary purpose of the UPS is to act as a battery backup in case we lose electrical power. If the electricity goes off, the UPS provides battery power to the server and other electronic devices for up to an hour and forty minutes. If the electrical power is not restored within an hour, the UPS has built-in software that shuts down the server so that no data is lost.

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