Thea Muir is a happy and healthy mother and wife who beams in every photo. But it hasn't always been this way for the Christian artist and writer.
Soon after leaving university, she spiralled into debilitating eating disorders and while her friends were excitedly planning the next chapters of their lives, Thea was just trying to get through the day.
But in a remarkable turnaround, she managed to rebuild her faith and her life, and is now flourishing as the founder of I Am So Many Things, a range of products based on her book by the same name which includes all the affirmations that helped her climb back from rock bottom.
The latest edition to the collection is a new I Am So Many Things journalling Bible published by Hodder Faith.
Thea talks to Christian Today about the power of affirmations and how her faith brought her back from the brink.
CT: There's quite a journey behind I Am So Many Things.
Thea: Yes, coming out of university, I really struggled with eating disorders and was paralysed by indecision and procrastination. I was either binge eating, or I was restricting food and over-exercising. Basically, trying to control my weight and body became a total obsession. It was a horrendous time and I was riddled with shame because I was a Christian and had grown up going to church. I knew I was sinning every time I did it so I just felt dirty all the time, but I just couldn't get out of it.
At dinner parties and social events, I was used to being the life and soul of the party, really confident and having lots of funny stories at my fingertips. But all of that was stripped away. In some ways, my self-confidence was being stripped away but on the other hand, God was building a new confidence in me that was based on who He made me to be. During that process, all the things I had built my life on were deconstructed, especially my body image.
CT: Do you remember a turning point where things started to get better?
Thea: I had a mentor who told me to say three declarations to myself in the mirror every day, so I chose: I am fearfully and wonderfully made - Psalm 139, which has been my favourite Psalm since I was a teenager; I have a beautiful and healthy body; and I am enough just as I am.
At first, saying these declarations made me squirm and feel awkward but the more I did it, the more it became part of my daily routine and I no longer thought anything of it.
With time, I started to be arrested by these declarations. I was going to a party one time and I could feel the old thoughts coming back - feeling the need to put on the mask and 'perform' in front of others. In that moment, God reminded me that I am enough just as I am, and it just hit me like a tonne of bricks that I didn't need to go into that party and perform. I could literally be boring and sit in a corner; I did not need to prove anything.
That was revolutionary for me and took all the drive out of my compulsive eating because I'd been using food to fill the gaps in my life and keep all these masks going. As I accepted the truth that I am enough just as I am - that I didn't need to try and be something - it took the string out of the addictive behaviour as well.
There was another time when I'd eaten too much and I was about to go on a big run because I was feeling guilty, and God reminded me of the declaration 'I have a beautiful and healthy body'. I realised that I didn't need to punish myself and run myself into the ground. It took the power out of this addictive behaviour.
Another time, I was standing at the fridge door praying, "God, I really don't want to do this again," even though in that moment I wanted to eat everything! But I heard God say, "You are powerful in the Kingdom." I didn't even know what that meant, but it stopped me from eating.
When I was caught up in these addictive patterns, there would be this cycle of hopelessness where I would feel disgusting and ashamed, and like I was never going to change. It was such a well-trodden tape that had played over in my head so many times. But there, standing at the fridge door, God said, "You're powerful in the Kingdom." And it felt like a ray of light had come into a dark cesspit. There was a new tape of hope playing now.
CT: Your experience is quite a testimony to the amazing power of words.
Thea: In the beginning, I rattled off these words without giving them much thought, but then I started to experience the power in them and it struck me that these things I had been saying had actually changed my behaviour at a really critical moment where, in the past, I would have either put on the mask or headed off to do gruelling exercise.
It was a real lightbulb moment. I learnt the power of our thought life to affect everything else in our lives and I started asking God to lay a new foundation in my life. I gave Him everything and He answered my prayers one by one. Through these affirmations, which are timeless and grace-filled, He rebuilt me from the base up and replaced all the worldly constructs of who I thought I was, with who He said I was and what He thought of me. Now I know there's no condemnation, and I can rise again when I do something wrong or make a mistake. Declaring my righteousness in Christ out loud has been a real life-saver.
CT: Do the old thoughts ever come back? Do you still struggle sometimes with the temptation to binge eat?
Thea: Voices of condemnation can so easily rise in us and food is still my area of weakness, but praise God, it is not such a struggle anymore. Whereas in the past I would go straight to food to numb the pain or hopelessness, I have learnt how to take those thoughts captive and come to Him with any pain, and hear His voice and truth instead of other thoughts.
CT: For you, pain manifested itself in eating disorders but there are probably a lot of people who can relate to your emotional state and the emotional struggle you had to come out of eating disorders, even if for them it might manifest itself in something different, like drugs or shopping or drink.
Thea: Yes, we're so good at going to all these other things to try and fill the gap that only Jesus can fill.
CT: What prompted you to put your book together?
Thea: My husband Dom and I had just got married and were out in South Africa because he had the opportunity to preach and speak there. One of the women's groups asked me to lead a session and I had no idea what to speak to them about so I prayed about it and God told me to read through my declarations. By this time, I had a list of 50-plus declarations on my iPad, all sorts of 'I am' statements from the Bible, and I asked the women to close their eyes, open their hearts and notice which affirmations were easier for them to say or which ones got stuck in their throats. It was hugely impactful, there were tears, and the women asked me for the list of affirmations.
During that trip, I started a yellow, hardback journal and on one page, I was writing an affirmation and on the other, illustrating it. Dom asked to see it and was blown away. He asked for a copy of it for himself and then suggested we print it for others because it was really ministering to him in a powerful way.
My new journalling Bible mimics as closely as possible the hardback journal I was keeping in South Africa. It's something I want people to keep by their beds or wherever they spend time with God, and really journey with and treasure it. I used to be sceptical about affirmations but they are powerful reminders of who we are.
CT: Were you always arty?
Thea: The illustration side of things came as a by-product of my struggle with eating disorders. I've always loved art and being creative. Creativity has always been my go to and, growing up, I was usually making things at the weekend. I even tried to start a number of creative businesses, like upcycling furniture. But the interesting thing is that the illustration came when I wasn't trying. It actually came out of a total moment of brokenness and feeling like the world had been pulled out from beneath my feet.
CT: Bible journalling has taken off in a big way in recent years. What benefits do you think there are to this blending of the Word and art?
Thea: I think it really lifts God's words off the flat paper and as the saying goes, "A picture says a thousand words." And capturing truth in images makes it much more memorable because when we spend time journalling, there is so much truth that becomes attached to that picture and it helps us go so much deeper into the Bible.
CT: You don't need to be a highly trained artist to start Bible journalling, though, do you?
Thea: No, you don't. Whatever you're drawing, it's in your Bible. It's not for anyone else; it's not a masterpiece you need to show anyone. And it's so freeing to be on this unedited journey with God because it can be so tempting to edit and perform, perform, perform and always be working on things we think people are going to see, but this is a really exciting safe space to doodle and journal and draw and process everything with God in a place that doesn't need to be seen and where we don't need to be self-conscious.
CT: You've come such a long way in your own journey since the difficult days of your eating disorders. What would you say to someone who is facing 'rock bottom' right now and maybe feeling like there's no hope for them?
Thea: If God can do it for me, He can do it for you. God is not a preferrer of persons. There is nothing special about me. It was God's Word that transformed me by weeding my heart and replacing the weeds with truth. We need to let go of our pride, even the pride of holding onto the thought that 'I am not worth anything', because it's not true. We need to be like little children and take God at His word.
And don't give up; it's a journey, it doesn't happen overnight.
But whatever we plant will grow. If we plant bad seed, bad fruit will grow. If we plant good seed, good fruit will grow. This journalling Bible is full of good seeds so my hope is that people will read it and let that grow in their hearts instead of whatever doubts or negative thoughts they're having.
The I Am So Many Things NIV journalling Bible is out on 6 August and available from the I Am So Many Things website.