The art of contentment

10 couple relaxingChristmas is an odd time for me. I love to give gifts, but I don't really care to “add to the collection” of unwanted gifts. In my home, we often talk about trusting God to meet our needs. That doesn't mean we stand on the shore and watch for our ship to come in. We work hard to make sure we've done all we can to provide for our family and others, but still we trust God. Sometimes I'll pray and ask for specific things — you know, a particular amount of money, favorable diagnosis of a car problem — and I suspect you do too. Nothing wrong with that, but there's truly more to having your needs met than having stuff go your way. It may be as simple as being content with where you are and what you have.

My wife and I must be on the same wavelength concerning contentment. We have a little chalkboard in our kitchen where we'll write a recipe or date night idea, but recently I walked into the kitchen and saw these words: “What if God has already provided?”

That stopped me. And the thought has haunted me for weeks. What if, in my quest for more and better, I've overlooked what I
already have?

It's caused me to take stock of my time, talents and resources. It's even changed the way I pray and how I look at pretty much

Discontentment runs rampant in our culture, and today I want to offer you three choices you can make in your life that can lead you to genuine, biblical, lasting contentment.

1. Seek contentment as a lifestyle. Choose it. Acknowledge that you would not be happier if you had more. You wouldn’t be — you’d likely be more miserable. God’s Word contains clear warnings for us: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

2. Learn to say, “I have enough.” Let those words reign in your home. Push back from the table and say, “I’ve had enough.” When money comes your way — a surprise bonus from work, an inheritance from your great-uncle, even finding $50 in your coat pocket — resist the cravings for more.

3. Settle it. Here’s a challenge — choose a lifestyle; don’t let your income dictate your lifestyle. Choose a comfortable level of living that meets your needs, and don't compromise that with more spending when more income arrives. If you don’t choose a lifestyle, this culture will choose one for you, and by default it will be the lifestyle of living beyond your means. Be counter-cultural. Be radical. Be others-oriented.

Let enough be enough. Learn from the examples of those around you (both the contented and the covetous). You'll save yourself some heartache and know the joy of a truly contented attitude. More does not equal happier. I promise.

And remember this from Philippians 4:19 – “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.” (New Living Translation)


Committee proposes methods to improve police training, community relations

03 Szoka committee picEarlier this year when peaceful protests turned violent I recognized that there were questions affecting North Carolina that I didn’t know the answers to. Those deeply disturbing events that tore apart communities made it clear that our state needed answers.

Are chokeholds applied by law enforcement officers legal or illegal in North Carolina? Is there a duty for law enforcement officers to intervene when observing potential official misconduct? And the list went on.

I went to Speaker Moore and suggested he convene a House Select Committee to investigate these and other issues. He agreed and the House Select Committee on Community Relations, Law Enforcement and Justice was formed and I was appointed a Chairman.

This committee was unique in that it not only had legislative members but also reached into the community to ask non-legislators to be voting members of the committee.

Committee members ranged on both sides of the political spectrum and included governmental and special interest groups as well.

We began committee work in early September with the goal of creating a forum where lawmakers could listen to diverse voices across the state, seek understanding, and work toward making meaningful recommendations for transformative change.

During the committee process members heard from various stakeholders across North Carolina, solicited recommendations from committee members and the public, explored potential changes and eventually adopted the committee’s final recommendations.

I am proud to announce that on Dec. 14 the committee ended its work and in a historic, bi-partisan vote unanimously adopted the recommendations.

It was an honor to lead this committee and I am thankful for the hard work of the members that allowed us to recommend targeted, meaningful reforms in such a short time.

The final committee report includes thirteen recommendations for action-oriented policy solutions that reflect broad community and stakeholder agreement. Those recommendations are:
• Creating additional statewide law enforcement training requirements that include requiring crisis intervention training and implicit bias training; as well as providing additional resources to officers and agencies to complete the new requirement training.
• Requiring mandatory reporting requirements for law enforcement agencies for disciplinary actions, resignations, terminations and de-certifications.
• Creating whistle-blower protections for officers that report misconduct.
• Providing law enforcement with additional resources when encountering mental health issues in the field.
• Providing law enforcement with additional resources to receive mental health treatment.
• Reclassification of some lower level criminal offenses.
• Directing the Administrative Office of the Courts to examine whether each judicial district would benefit from the availability of specialty courts such as drug treatment or Veterans Courts.
• Banning the use of chokeholds.
• Requiring psychological evaluations for all public safety officers.
• Requiring law enforcement to report use of force incidents.
• Mandating the duty to intervene and the duty to report officer misconduct.
• Creating and funding a pilot program for high school student law enforcement career exploration.
• Creating a system to allow individuals to receive additional notification of court dates, to avoid additional Failure to Appear charges.

These committee recommendations will provide guidance for potential legislative action by future sessions of the North Carolina General Assembly. A full committee report can be found on the committee website at

This committee report is just the beginning; I look forward to working during the upcoming session with fellow legislators to advance these policy recommendations into meaningful legislation.

Will you take the vaccine?

05 vaccine 2Despite the current spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths, there is good news on the not-so-distant horizon. Three effective vaccines are in the pipeline. Some North Carolinians — those battling coronavirus on the frontlines as well as those put at greatest risk by infection — will being vaccinated in the coming weeks.

When vaccines become more widely available, will you be among those who get the shots? A large share of the general public won’t say yes, at least not yet.

According to a late-November survey by the Pew Research Center, 29% of Americans said they would “definitely” get vaccinated if the vaccine were immediately available. Another 31% said they “probably” would. That’s a majority, yes. But with 39% saying they would definitely or probably reject it, there are grounds to wonder whether enough people will get vaccinated to establish the herd immunity required to get us past the pandemic stage.

These are countrywide findings, admittedly. But North Carolinians appear to be, if anything, even more skeptical than the average American. In an October study by Elon University’s survey team, only 37% of registered voters in our state said they would accept a COVID-19 vaccine, with 36% saying they wouldn’t accept it and the rest unsure.

I think it is possible these poll respondent aren’t being entirely honest — or, to put it another way, that they aren’t accurately predicting how they will feel when the opportunity for vaccination actually arrives.

Some Democratic-leaning North Carolinians who are suspicious of the Trump administration’s Operation Warp Speed project to speed the approval and distribution of vaccines may be more willing to get their shots when a different president is in the White House. And some Republicans who tended to downplay their risk of contracting COVID-19 during election season may alter their perceptions of the risk for the same reason, because the political climate has changed.

Moreover, as December turns into January, and winter into spring, those worried that vaccine development was unsafely rushed during 2020 may get more comfortable with the final product. Millions will already vaccinated by then, likely with few or no side-effects. That will be reassuring.

Still, if we want some semblance of normalcy to return to our economy, our communities, our households, and our personal freedoms, we cannot afford merely to assume that vaccination rates will be high. To the extent some of our fellow citizens maintain a deep suspicion of medical providers and drug manufacturers, or continue to see the vaccination issue through partisan lenses, our leaders need a well-planned, sustained campaign to respond to their concerns.

That’s why three former presidents — Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama — have volunteered to get their shots in front of television cameras. That’s why Hollywood and Madison Avenue are getting involved. We need different messages for different audiences, addressing the different sources of public skepticism.

That skepticism isn’t limited to a single group. For example, the Pew survey revealed that 69% of Democratic-leaning voters said they would definitely or probably get vaccinated, vs. 50% of Republican-leaning voters. That’s a partisan gap, to be sure. But that still leaves lots of Democrats in the “no” camp.

Indeed, Pew also found that African-Americans, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, are far less likely to say they’ll get vaccinated (42%) than are whites (61%), Hispanics (63%), and Asians (83%).

Widespread vaccination will be necessary to put this public-health crisis behind us. It’s the main way we’ll save the businesses, jobs, and community institutions threatened by the virus itself and by the cumbersome regulations governments have enacted to combat it while vaccines were being developed.

Even so, I believe neither that we should use force to get everyone their shots nor that such a recourse will be necessary. While the vaccination rate must be high, it need not be 100%. Some individuals have real health conditions or adverse immune-system responses that merit special consideration.

But for most other objections, I think persuasion will be a proper and effective response. Let’s begin.

It's a true Christmas medical miracle — the vaccine is ready

02 Roni PaulWell, it’s a medical miracle, and I couldn’t think of a grander Christmas gift to all Americans. Regardless of your political affiliation or sentiments, President Trump and his administration made good on the promise to produce a COVID-19 vaccine in less than a year. Operation Warp Speed made good on that promise when the first shipments of over 2 million doses of Pfizer vaccine were produced and shipped in only nine months. An impressive feat considering the normal R&D development process usually takes 5 to 8 years. Millions of doses of the Moderna vaccine are expected to be shipped soon.

Without incident, thousands of front-line medical workers have already received the first of two vaccinations needed to fend off this deadly disease. The second vaccination will follow in about two weeks.

The vaccine arrived in Fayetteville the morning of Dec. 15 to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center and to Womack Army Medical Center on Fort Bragg. Both hospitals began vaccinating front line health care workers at 1 p.m.

As of this writing, it is predicted that over 20 million vaccinations will be administered across the country by the end of January. This is excellent news and a feat that could only have been accomplished in America. This is a proud moment for our nation and should be celebrated. Not politicized.

There is more good news on the horizon. The CDC announced last week that approval was given for an over-the-counter COVID-19 screening test that will allow individuals to check for the disease by evaluating their symptoms. The results are ready in 20 minutes. The cost? $30.

Getting vaccinated is only one stage in getting this epidemic under control. We still need to use common sense: wash our hands, practice social distancing, etc.

More importantly, we need to make sure we keep our attitudes right by maintaining a positive outlook and focusing on the well-being of our mental health. After all, this is the holiday season, and emotions will be running high mixed with a little anxiety from being separated from friends and family. Usually, this is a joyful time when family and friends get together to celebrate the birth of Christ, congregate to eat, drink and be merry while sharing family traditions. Perhaps, not so much this year as everyone becomes COVID cautious and rightfully so. Almost everyone I come in contact with has either had COVID, know someone with COVID, or know someone who has passed away from the disease. Social responsibility here takes on a whole new meaning. In other words, when it comes to protecting your friends and family from the spread of the COVID-19 disease, consideration of those around you should be your first and foremost consideration.

We care about our readers and the businesses and organizations in our community. Yes, this is a crazy time, and 2020 will be a year for the record books. However, we will get through this. The development of America’s new COVID-19 vaccine has again proven the truth in the adage by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I believe this, and so should you. Thank you for reading Up & Coming Weekly.

Pictured above: Spc. Adam G. Millett, a combat medic assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, administers the first COVID-19 vaccine on Fort Bragg to Womack Army Medical Center emergency room nurse Roni Paul on Dec. 15. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class Mary Katzenberger, 18th Airborne Corps)

Christmas gifts for the dumb at heart

04 Pitt IMG 4739Are you stressed out enough, Bunkie? Would you like some more tension in your life? Time to add a new layer of anxiety to your weary load. What are the perfect Christmas presents to magically cancel your loved ones’ 2020 stress? As a service to both my readers, here are some gift ideas that will turn 2020 into purple haze of happiness morphing this year into a triumph of comfort and joy.

Being a person of the oblivious male persuasion, I frequently encounter troubles finding the perfect gift for my wife, Lani. Other clueless husbands may have similar Christmas issues. Husbands, I feel your pain. I know you would rather watch a basketball game than go shopping, but that is not to be. You must buy the perfect gift. No pressure. Find something for her that will erase all of your shortcomings of the past year.

The first place to start looking for gift ideas is on the inside back cover of old Superman and Donald Duck comic books. There are more gift ideas there than a 19th Century Mormon would need for all his wives. I began collecting comic books back in the 1950s when they were only a dime. I had zillions of them. I ordered treasures from the back of the book: ant farms, toy soldiers and an Invisible Space Helmet. Really good stuff. A bit of background information about those ads to get us started. The Father of Comic Books ads was a dude named Harold von Braunhut. Harold was an inventor and better salesman than even Don Draper of “Madmen.” According to Mr. Google, Harold came up with 195 patents including the amazing Sea Monkeys, Invisible Goldfish, and X-Ray Specs which allegedly allowed adolescent boys to see under the clothing of ladies of the female race. (Author’s note: the X-Ray Specs did not work).

Enough history, you say: “What hath Harold wrought?” The ads on the back of the comic books were a wonderland of great gags, hilarious and disgusting products and phony teeth. Consider what you can buy from the inside cover: a 7-foot-long Polaris nuclear submarine which fires rockets and torpedoes for only $6.98. Learn to be a ventriloquist for only a quarter. See Behind Glasses with secret mirrors that let you see what was happening behind your back. Onion Gum that “looks like real gum but tastes like ONIONS!” (emphasis in original). A Joy Buzzer you wear like a ring “when you shake hands, it almost raises the victim off his feet with a shocking sensation.” (I had one of those) Trick black soap that “looks ordinary but the victim washes his face and gets blacker and blacker” for only 25 cents. A Secret Spy scope with “a wide field magnifier concealed in a pen sized pocket scope that lets you peek to your heart’s content. So handy for sporting events, counter-spying, and Girl Watching.” Only $2.98.

But wait! There are more items for your consideration: police handcuffs for $4.98. Fake bullet hole decals that are “strikingly effective on cars or windows. Looks like you’ve been shot at.” 49 cents. Fake vomit, providing loads of laughs. A squirrel monkey for only $13.50. A Geiger Counter for $24.95 — “This is no toy! It is a scientific instrument — yet a child can use it to find great wealth!” A tool that can remove ugly blackheads in seconds for only $1.00.

Need a gift for a 97-pound weakling? Give the gift from Charles Atlas who can make you a new man in only 15 minutes a day through his patented Dynamic Tension method. Remember the beach bully who yelled “Hey Skinny… Yer ribs are showing” at Joe the 97-pound weakling? His girlfriend tells him not to let the bully hit him. Unfortunately, the bully clobbers him, telling Joe: “Shut up, you Bag of Bones!” Embarrassed, Joe orders Charles Atlas’ system and works out. On Joe’s return to the beach, he socks the bully saying: “Here’s a love tap from the Bag of Bones.” Girlfriend dutifully impressed, takes Joe’s arm and says “Oh Joe, you are a real He-Man after all.” Two other girls on the beach say “What a man, and he used to be so skinny!” Turn your 97-pound weakling friend into a real He-Man.

Unfortunately, not all ads could be verified as truthful. The World of Hijinks page from Unsupervised Corp accompanying this column may have some fake items. Pet cigarettes featuring a cat smoking might be an exaggeration. A Door Mat Mine that explodes will make your friends fly. Pit Vipers “delivered direct to your favorite victim. What a hoot!” Eye Daggers with “spring loaded carbon steel knives shoot from your eyes.” Uranium Gum Looks like regular gum. But it will make their teeth glow in the dark.” A life-sized model guillotine for $3. A barrel of live monkeys —“Oh boy, that’s right, real monkeys! Don’t ask where we got ‘em. We have to move them fast. They already ate all our exploding sandwiches.” The famous Exploding Sandwich “Sit back and watch the fun. Your victim will go on a diet.”

Everyone on your Christmas list will be more than delighted to receive any of these fine items as a Yuletide treat. Sorry, no refunds. All sales are final. Merry Christmas!

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