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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
I remember it like it was yesterday. It was early June 1977. I was 20 years old. I had completed my sophomore year in college and was home for the summer working as a laborer for a construction company.
All of a sudden, everyone was talking about Star Wars, the new movie that had been released at the end of May. The movie had quickly gained momentum and was breaking box office records.
Star Wars was about a 19-year-old farm boy, Luke, who was expected to take over the family farm someday. Luke was itching to get away from the farm and start exploring the universe, but his dad made him feel guilty about abandoning the family farm and leaving it up to his aging parents to continue to maintain.
After his parents were killed by enemy soldiers, Luke joined forces with an old Jedi Master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and they set out to assist the Rebel Alliance in stopping the evil Empire from taking over the universe.
One of the most interesting things about Star Wars was that it was modeled on the westerns that moviegoers in the 1960s and 1970s had grown up with. In the westerns, we were accustomed to seeing a villain who always used force and violence to take over the land of local farmers. In Star Wars, the villain’s goal was to take over planets that were controlled by local governments.
In the westerns, the heroes were always sharpshooters who rode into town on horses to save the day. In Star Wars, the heroes arrived in spaceships to save the day. In westerns, the heroes used conventional guns with bullets. In Star Wars, they used high-tech guns that could blast holes in buildings.
But it wasn’t just the westerns that Star Wars was modeled on. It was also modeled on the old pirate movies where pirates hijacked and took over waterborne ships with gunpowder-based cannons and swords. In Star Wars, the villains hijacked spaceships with laser cannons and laser swords.
I’ve written before about my younger sister, Kathryn Mary, who was born on September 13, 1972. Within a couple of days of her birth, her doctors discovered that she had Down syndrome and a heart defect that was going to eventually need to be corrected with open-heart surgery.
Unfortunately, Kathryn never got to a point where she had enough strength and stamina to withstand a surgery. She was so weak that she was never able to turn herself over or crawl on the floor. She gained very little weight during the 13 months that she was with us. She died on October 19, 1973.
Kathryn was with us for only one Christmas, and there is only one thing that I remember about that day. My grandfather, Tom Williams, came over to our house and when he saw my mom holding Kathryn, he said in a loud voice, “She’s the best Christmas present you could ever ask for. You should wrap a red bow around her and forget about all the other presents.”
Shortly after the birth of our little Christmas present, one of her doctors told my parents that children who are born with Down syndrome have a great love of and appreciation for music. The doctor encouraged my parents to play music for Kathryn as often as possible. My mom did what the doctor told her to do and played soothing music as often as possible, especially when she was trying to calm Kathryn down or put her to sleep.
Although it’s been more than 40 years since Kathryn died and went to heaven, I still think of her when I consider the impact that music has had on my life and on the lives of my children.
As a society, we’ve learned a lot during the past 40 years about the calming and healing power of music. There are now more than 5,000 board-certified music therapists in the United States who have the training to use music to help people socially, emotionally, physically, cognitively, and developmentally.
There’s a book that was published in 1970 by Harold Sherman that had a title that made potential buyers want to buy the book: How to Foresee and Control Your Future. We all have a desire to control our future. Lucifer knows this. The lie that he successfully told Eve was that she and Adam would never die, which implied that if they ate from the tree of good and evil, they would be able to exercise complete control over their lives forever.
The sudden death of a person you love is a mortal blow to the concept that you have control over your own life. The essence of being able to exercise control over your own life is that you must also be able to control the lives of the people who are around you.
The shock that comes with the sudden death of someone you love is always accompanied by the one question that screams out for an answer — “Why?”
Why did he have to die now? Why did God take her from us? Why couldn’t it have been me instead of him?
While we can never really know with certainty what the answer to those questions are, there are legitimate reasons why God would allow the sudden death of an individual. Here are some of the reasons:
1. The Sacrificial Lamb – Last week, I wrote about the sudden death of my wife’s 19-day-old niece, Natalie, in 1978. She was baptized before she died. The Catholic Church teaches that a baptized child who has not yet reached the age of reason — which is ordinarily seven years old — goes directly to heaven when he or she dies.
Why does God allow a baptized child to die? The most common reason is that the child’s family is going to need the child’s help in the future to keep peace in the family, to help the members of the family get along, and to help each member of the family get into heaven. In His infinite wisdom, God knows that the child’s family members are going to need an advocate in heaven who will be able to provide assistance to each of the family members.
I traveled to Indianapolis with a friend and when we walked into the hotel to check in, Georgette was walking through the lobby with her sister, Janet. My friend yelled out to them and introduced me to Georgette and her sister. We spent a few minutes talking to them and then checked into the hotel.
I knew who Georgette was before I was introduced to her. Every young man in the Lebanese community in Peoria knew who she was. Besides being stunningly beautiful, she had a reputation in the community for being a kind, generous, and fun-loving person. She had a magnetic personality that seemed to pull guys out of the woodwork.
During the two days that I was at the convention, every time I saw Georgette there were college-age men around her trying to impress her. I intentionally kept my distance the first day because I was concerned that if I gave her too much attention, she would lump me in with all the other guys who were trying to impress her.
On both Friday and Saturday evening, there was a dinner and a dance. At the dances, there was a live band that played Lebanese music. Each night, the band played until midnight, and then a DJ took over and played American music.
On Friday evening, I only had one chance to have a brief conversation with Georgette. On Saturday morning, I ran into her in the lobby of the hotel and we started talking. We ended up taking a 15-minute walk together while we talked.
On Saturday evening, we danced together a couple of times. After our second dance, I suggested that we walk out to the lobby so we could hear each other. As usual, the band had turned up the volume of the music so loud that it was impossible to carry on a conversation.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I ran into a Catholic doctor that I’ve known for more than 20 years. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to call him “Ray.” After we talked for a while, the topic of how young adults aren’t prepared for the real world came up.
Ray told me about a recent experience that he had at a local department store. While he was shopping at the store, he picked up a package of six identical items that were bundled together. When he arrived at the checkout lane, the young woman behind the counter scanned one of the six items. The amount that appeared on the cash register screen was for a single item, rather than all six of the items.
When Ray saw the single-item price on the screen, he calmly told the woman that he didn’t think that the price was correct. He explained to her that the price that was displayed should have been six times what was shown, because there were six items in the package. The woman scanned one of the items again and the same amount appeared on the screen. She then told Ray that the amount that appeared on the screen was the correct amount.
Ray was irritated with the woman and said, “Okay, if that’s the price, I’m going to go get some more packages.” He then walked over to where the items were displayed and grabbed three more packages off the shelf. The woman rang up each of the three additional packages for the single-item price.
When Ray finished telling me about his experience with the woman, I said, “You really do know better than that. Just because the woman didn’t know what she was doing, didn’t give you the right to purchase the packages at the reduced price.” He disagreed with me and said, “No, you’re wrong. Since she insisted that the price was correct, I had the right to buy as many packages as I wanted at that price.” I disagreed with him and said, “When you purchased those items, you knew that she didn’t have the authority to reduce the price of the package to the single-item price. There’s a word for what you did. It’s called theft.”