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Discipline Saved My Life

Discipline Saved My Life

by Chelsey Williams

“Chelsey Krohn – please report to the principal’s office.”

Every single eye in Mrs. Griffie’s second grade class turned to look at me. My heart started pounding. A million questions flooded my head: 

Me? What did I do? Did I break the rules? Was I mean to someone? What’s going to happen? Will they call my mom? Send my dad to get me? Am I going to get…..the paddle?! 

If you’re around my age or older, you probably remember hearing about – or being on the receiving end of – “the paddle.” Mrs. Ehly, the principal at Hamilton Elementary School and owner of the paddle, was lean and tall, always clicking around the school in her flowy dresses and sky-high heels, her jet black hair cut to a perfect razor sharp edge right above her shoulders. Although she was always kind to me, I secretly suspected her of having a mean streak, possibly due to her looks being strikingly similar to the cartoon version of Cruella Deville (if Cruella had ever bothered to comb her hair). 

When we think of discipline, this is often where our mind goes. Trouble. Punishment. Retribution. But there’s a whole different side to discipline – one that is far from the paddles and switches of my childhood – that is good and healthy and worthwhile. (By the way, I have never – not once – been paddled or switched. She called me to her office that day because I had won a Good Citizenship award. Yes, I was a rule-following goody two-shoes. Insert eye roll here.)

Over the last several years, discipline has become a way of life for me for the short and simple reason that it literally saved me. Discipline saved my life. Let me tell you a story.

In 2015, I was diagnosed with an “incurable autoimmune disease.” It doesn’t really matter which one – in my mind they’re basically all the same. My doctor gave me only one option for treatment: an immune-crushing biologic drug that boasted a laundry list of potential side effects. After doing some research on it, I couldn’t figure out how it could possibly be the best option. Sure, it could mask some of the symptoms I was experiencing, but a compromised immune system can be deadly and the drug itself could give me anything from nausea and headaches to cancer, heart disease or a life-threatening brain infection. There had to be a better way. 

A month after my diagnosis, I refused the medicine and started reading. I researched every diet on the market and tried many of them for myself. I cut out gluten and dairy, sugar and caffeine, corn and soy. I read labels, I shopped the perimeter of the store, I talked to a dietician. I embraced the discipline required to live this new lifestyle, and in the end, I settled on something similar to the Mediterranean diet – mainly beans, fish, and vegetables – and all the changes I had made seemed to work. Although I still had some pain, I was feeling better and had more energy to do the things I wanted to do.

And then, almost exactly four years to the day after my diagnosis, I ended up in the hospital. Twice. 

Frustrated and sick, when I left the hospital the second time, I gave up. I threw all that discipline out the window, took the awful medicines, went to all the follow-up appointments, did everything the doctors told me to do. I even had surgery. And I still felt terrible. The medicine stole all my energy, I was still in pain, and I started to resign myself to a “new normal.” One in which I just accepted the fact that I would always be sick, always feel bad, always be waiting for the next trip to the hospital.

Things might have continued on in that way had it not been for God. During the years I was struggling with my health and searching for a way to be well, I was also searching for Him. Although I grew up in church as a kid and was an active member in the churches I attended as an adult, I realized that I had never known God in a real and personal way. So as I lived into the discipline of learning to be well, I also threw myself into the discipline of knowing God. 

Reading the Bible became a daily habit. Two of the most transformative experiences I had were reading through the Bible in a year and reading through the Gospels every month for a year. Learning about Jesus in the Gospels introduced me to God in a whole new way. I have always loved the Old Testament, finding comfort in the story of Creation, the Psalms, and especially God’s pursuit of and care for the Israelites despite their constant whining and complaining. But Jesus was new territory for me. And I slowly started to realize that knowing Jesus changes everything.     

Prayer and quiet also became a constant in my life. During the summer of 2019 (the “summer of hospital visits”), I spent hours on our porch swing, knitting or reading or just sitting quietly. God was faithful to meet me there and continued to offer me peace and an underlying hope that there was more to my story than being sick. God loved me through my worst days as I leaned into spending time with Him. 

I continued to attend church – in person when I was feeling good and online when I wasn’t. Just knowing there was a community of people to connect with each week was life-giving for me. I looked forward to seeing my friends and connecting with God at PCC, and God spoke to me through the music and the messages, often with just the right words at just the right time. 

One of the best things I did during this time (and continue to do to this day) was meet with a spiritual director once a month. The hours I spent with her absolutely changed my life in ways I never could have imagined. Having the space to say things and feel things and have someone there to listen and witness what was happening to me was an incredible experience. I met God in a whole new way. I felt loved and understood. I felt seen and known. I felt God’s Presence with me in the room and when I went out into the world. It was a haven for me month after month, a place of hope and healing.

Six months after I gave up on my health, I found myself, once again, feeling like there had to be a better way. After the years I had spent in my Bible and on my porch and in spiritual direction, I just couldn’t shake this feeling of hope – this belief that there was more for me. Buoyed by the spiritual discipline I had learned, in 2020, I jumped back into my research on diet and lifestyle changes and committed to a whole new level of physical discipline. Determined to find a healing path, I read books, listened to podcasts and scoured the internet for something – anything – that could restore my body.

Inspired by a woman on Instagram, I began a daily walking practice. Through rain, sun, wind and snow, I headed outside every single day to walk anywhere from half a mile to six. Sometimes I listened to a book or a podcast or music. Sometimes I walked with a friend or family member. Sometimes I spent time in prayer. The hours I spent out in nature were incredibly healing, improving my mood, my mental health and my relationship with God. I made a goal to walk every single day for an entire year, and 365 days later I had walked nearly 1200 miles. The discipline it took to make time for it day after day further boosted my confidence in making new lifestyle changes not just something I did until I felt better, but a permanent change, a way of life. 

Eventually I stumbled upon a new approach to food that I hadn’t tried before. It was a big change and one that would take quite a bit of dedication to keep up with. Not only would I have to cut out more foods, I would need to think ahead and be prepared every single day. With the goal of getting off my medication, I committed to this new lifestyle and jumped in with both feet. Within weeks I had no pain and was feeling better than I had in years. Two years later, I achieved my goal. I got off the medicine and have now been healthy and well without it for almost a year. 

I am a totally different person today than I was when I started this journey eight years ago. Making discipline a daily practice improved my spiritual, mental and physical health in incredible ways. Make no mistake – this was not an easy process by any means. I had, and still have, plenty of days where I just don’t feel like doing any of it. But Love is what got me here and Love is what continues to see me through. 

God loves us and has provided everything we need to be well. He created our bodies to heal and thrive, and live vibrant, energetic lives following after Him. God gives us what we need to live into the purpose that He has for us. Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” I have found that statement to be absolutely true. We have what we need. We just have to have the discipline to choose it and live into it. 

When I think back on my story, of the details and events that got me to where I am today, the words of a song come to my mind as they so often do: 

“If I told you my story, you would hear hope that wouldn’t let go. And if I told you my story, you would hear love that never gave up. And if I told you my story, you would hear life, but it wasn’t mine…. To tell you my story, is to tell of Him.” (“My Story” by Big Daddy Weave)

What I’ve written here may sound like a story about me, but it’s really a story about God. It’s a story about the faithfulness of a Creator who is good and kind. It’s a story about a Love that recklessly fought for me. It’s a story about a Persistence that climbed mountains, knocked down walls and chased me down.  God came after me and gave me life! And in return, I offer my life back to Him. I lean into discipline as a means of praise and thanksgiving, accepting what He’s given to me and using it to live into my purpose. 

Discipline isn’t punishment, it’s life

It’s not confinement, it’s freedom

It’s not lack, it’s abundance

Discipline saved my life and it gives me life day after day after day. And it can do the same for you. My story isn’t unique. Whether you know it or not, God is chasing after you, too. He offers you a life of freedom, abundance, joy and good health. You just have to choose it. Yes, it takes some time and effort but I promise you, it’s worth it! You don’t have to try everything all at once. Pick one thing and do it every day for a week. Set an alarm, start a timer, make a reminder. And then do it. Show up for God and for yourself. Keep your promise, do the thing and see what God can do.

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Here are some great resources for implementing spiritual practices in your life.
Watch “How to Know God”
Read “Express Yourself – My Running Journey”
Read “Getting Serious About Sabbath”
Take your Next Step at PCC

Categories: Faith  Purpose  Self  Suffering  

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Written by

Chelsey Williams

Staff Writer and Editor

Published May 10, 2023


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