By: Laurie Polich Short
Excerpt taken from: When Changing Nothing Changes Everything
In 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. preached a sermon titled, “Looking Beyond Your Circumstances.” It was eight years before his “I Have a Dream” speech that would change America’s course. In this lesser-known sermon, Dr. King suggests that one of the great temptations is to become too absorbed in our circumstances, which leads to the conclusion that changing our circumstances is the only way out of them. Under that mindset, Dr. King states, our personality becomes “thinner and thinner, ultimately disintegrating under the pressing load.” Martin Luther King concludes that we are part of the equation in determining the outcome our circumstances give to us. Seeing that can change everything.
My grandfather’s story was a legend we heard many times growing up, a true tale embedded in our family history. Each time I heard it, it nurtured the traits of perseverance and grit that run through my Serbian veins.
Against All Odds
Todor Pero Polich left Serbia in 1906, at the time when his country was struggling under Austro-Hungarian rule. Like a multitude of immigrants across the globe, he came to America to make a new start. Boarding a boat by himself, he traveled two and a half weeks across the Atlantic, accompanied by no one he knew. At the age when I graduated high school, my grandfather left his homeland, never to return.
He knew no English when he arrived in the U.S. His possessions consisted of a dollar in his pocket and the clothes on his back. After he got off the ship at Ellis Island, he traveled by train to California, where his fifth cousin gave him a job washing dishes. With only a few English words and very few contacts, he was lucky to get even that. However, Todor never limited himself to the way his circumstances might have looked. Instead, he viewed each circumstance as part of his journey and persevered to where they would lead him next.
Forty-one years later, my grandfather sold his first construction company for $7.5 million. That amount doesn’t sound like much until you realize that the year was 1947. After Todor sold his company, he started a second construction company, which he turned over to my dad after he retired. The money he made in his businesses didn’t only foot the bill of many of his grandchildren’s college education (including mine), it also contributed toward building several churches that still stand today.
Yet in spite of his financial and material success, my greatest memory of my grandfather consists of two words he repeated over and over until the day of his death. To this day I cannot read those words without hearing them in his deep Serbian voice. He would lean in close and repeat them to me every time he had a chance:
“Morale and character,” he’d say, with a tremor in his voice. (Although with his accent it sounded like modal and chadacter.) “Thees is most important,” he’d whisper, shaking his long bony finger up to my face. “Never forget, Lauritza Annitza.” And I never did.
Morale is defined as a person’s courage, optimism, and determination. Character consists of the distinctive qualities and reputation that sets a person apart. These two words helped my grandfather persevere in his circumstances instead of disappearing under their weight. Somehow he believed that the way he lived his circumstances, rather than the circumstances themselves, would make a bigger impact on the way things turned out. He was right.
My grandfather looked at each chapter of his life as giving him strength and fortitude, knowing it was shaping him for the dreams that were ahead. He believed each circumstance was equipping him for where he was going and paving the road to what was next. The vision he had for more than what was immediately in front of him ended up charting his course.
With the lens of the big view, we diminish the power our circumstances have over us. And we are buoyed by the truth that the way our circumstances look is not always an accurate indicator of what is ahead.
*Laurie Polich Short serves as associate pastor at Oceanhills Covenant Church in Santa Barbara, California. A speaker at numerous conferences and colleges, she is the author of When Changing Nothing Changes Everything and Finding Faith in the Dark. This excerpt was taken from When Changing Nothing Changes Everything. Copyright 2017 by Laurie Polich Short.
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