Revive Our Hearts Podcast

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Dannah Gresh: Sue Thomas, who lost her hearing when she was eighteen months old, grew up learning about God’s sovereignty. By the time she was in college, however, she questioned everything she had been taught.

Sue Thomas: “My parents made a mistake when they told me God never makes mistakes.” I was convinced God had made a mistake.

Dannah: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Surrender: The Heart God Controls, for Wednesday, August 19. I’m Dannah Gresh.

If I were to ask you for a specific example of a time God gave you a fresh start, how would you respond? What story would you tell me? You might talk about the moment you gave your life to Him, trusting in Christ alone for your hope in this life and the next. Or maybe you’d tell me about when you were heading a wrong direction, interested only in yourself, and God graciously orchestrated circumstances to wake you up in some way.

Today’s guest on Revive Our Hearts had that kind of experience. Sue Thomas visited with Nancy in the studio. Now, even though Sue can’t hear, she reads lips remarkably well. So we moved the microphone back from in front of Nancy’s face, and this is a portion of that conversation. Let’s listen.

Nancy: I’d love for you to share just how your parents first learned that you were deaf. You weren’t born deaf. How did you parents first learn that you had lost your hearing?

Sue: I was eighteen months of age, and I was watching TV with my brothers. All of a sudden, I ran up and I turned up the volume knob full blast. My brothers turned it down, I turned it up, they turned it down. Mom and Dad came running into the room to find what all the racket was about.

That night, when they tucked me into bed, neither of them realized that it would be the very first long “silent night” of the rest of my life.

The next morning when I awoke, my mom was talking to me . . . sounds were going off . . . she realized I was totally oblivious to my surroundings. And she grew concerned and called our neighbor who was a nurse.

And after a lot of discussion, they placed me in the car, and they rushed me to the hospital. There the doctors examined me and said these words to my mother that would follow her the rest of her life: “There’s no hearing there. She’s profoundly deaf.”

They have no understanding of why I lost the hearing that night. I wasn’t sick; I didn’t have any instrument or anything poke my ear. They don’t know. But, today with medical science and because I have multiple sclerosis, it’s very possible that way back then I had MS, because MS is known to cause deafness.

But I won’t know until I stand before God and He reveals the mystery of my silence.

For the first thirty-five years of my life, my deafness was my worst enemy. It was the thing that I despised and I hated the most.

Nancy: How did your parents respond to the fact that their little eighteen-month-old daughter had lost her hearing?

Sue: The doctors and educators alike are sharing that they should send me away. They said that I would never learn to speak, that I would have a hard time simply learning.

They didn’t want to send me away after waiting for so long, and they took a vow that they would do everything possible—they’d give me every tool possible—to help me live and survive in the world of sound.

Dannah: So, Sue learned how to read lips. She spent years in speech therapy and voice lessons, learning how to talk. Her mother even taught her piano. But life wasn’t easy for Sue.

Sue: In school, I was laughed at and ridiculed for talking funny. I was laughed at and ridiculed for being the dummy; for getting the questions, but never getting the answers. My grades were D’s and F’s. 

Nancy: You weren’t in a special class; you were with hearing children. What was that experience like for you?

Sue: I started out as a normal child in the public school. The teacher knew I was deaf. She put me in the front row so I’d be able to read her lips as best as I could. And back then, I didn’t read lips too good.

But I tried to follow the class. Whatever they would do, I would do. Opening session was when we were asked to introduce ourselves to our classmates. I followed everybody, and it came my turn. I remember getting up and standing beside my desk and looking very proudly at my classmates.

I just released my name in such a garbled, horrifying way, where the entire class just erupted in laughter! I remember turning around to try to figure why everybody was laughing so hard, and when I couldn’t figure it out, I just sat down.

But I came to realize that every time I was to open my mouth to speak, the entire class would erupt in laughter. I got to the point where I wouldn’t open my mouth. 

I remember going to school, sitting in front of the front row, watching my teacher ask all sorts of questions like, “What’s the state capital to Ohio?” Then I’d wait for the answer, never realizing that some smart kid behind me had waved his hand and gave the answer.

Nancy: But you couldn’t hear it.

Sue: As a result, I got all the questions—most of them—but I never got the answer. My grades became D’s and F’s. I remember my teacher coming up to me at my desk. She looked awful sad that day. She reached down and she took my hand in hers and led me out of the classroom. That day we walked down the hallway (it seemed like an awful long walk), and I entered another class. I was entered into the “dummy class” with the mentally retarded.

Dannah: In high school, Sue had a typing teacher who realized that her student was in no way a “dummy.” Through the loving, persevering work of that teacher, Sue was able to go to college. 

Nancy: Now, when you got out of college, you wanted to find a job, but it wasn’t very easy.

Sue: No. There wasn’t one person that was willing to hire me. I couldn’t answer the phone. They were afraid because I was deaf, I wouldn’t understand, and I would make mistakes.

I ended up going back to the same Speech Clinic that taught me to speak. I pounded on their door, asking for a job. I know they felt sorry for me. Why? They hired me even without a job. I was like a gopher, a jack-of-all-trades. I can remember some days of taking paper clips out of one box and sticking them in another closet. That was my job.

But God was still writing the chapter on my life because I had a friend in the Speech Clinic who in turn had a friend that worked at the federal government who in turn had a friend who worked for the Department of State who in turn had a friend that worked for the FBI.

Nancy: How does the Lord write those stories? That’s amazing!

Sue: It is.

Nancy: And they came—you got the message that there might be a job for you at the FBI.

Sue: What I didn’t realize is that they were looking for deaf people to start a new program to examine fingerprints. As I explain to people, all those funny lines on their fingertips are fingerprints, and no two people have the same. So they thought deaf people would come and search the fingerprints, and it would be a lot faster and a lot more detailed than having a hearing person do it, which was currently happening.

You start looking at this print, and you have to count each one of those lines. Well, for a hearing person, in the middle of the count, if somebody sneezed, they would look up to see who sneezed, and they would have to start at the beginning and count again. Or if somebody dropped a book, they would have to find out what book was dropped, and they’d have to start all over and over.

But there was some bright idea at the FBI that if they hired the deaf people, then people could sneeze, doors could slam, books could drop. They were deaf, they’d never hear it, so they would just keep counting. That’s the way it was.

While I was there counting the lines, one day my supervisor came to me and said that they wanted to see me in the front office. When I walked in, there were nine men waiting for me. They told me to sit down, and they started asking me questions. And then they came to realize that they had a big problem. They were working on a case which they’d video filmed the suspect, but on this particular case, when the camera activated, the sound mechanism failed. So they had all this film with the bad guys talking, but they couldn’t hear him, and they wanted to know if I would watch it and write down any words.

I said, “Sure, no problem.”

From that day on, I never went back to reading fingerprints. I read lips for the FBI. And to sum up my job, I followed the bad guys around, and I read their lips, and I told the good guys what the bad guys were saying. And they even paid me to do it, too! So that was a whole unique job. I became known as the secret weapon for the FBI.

Nancy: Here you were having career success, and your life seemed to be going really well, but inside, things were not going well.

Sue: All the outward signs were a lie. The happy-go-lucky, cheerful person—I lived the part for society. Inside, I was so defective.

By the time I’m in college, I realized that I’m not just questioning my parents any longer. I’m basically realizing my parents made a mistake when they told me God never makes mistakes. I was convinced God had made a mistake.

Nancy: By making you deaf.

Sue: Because when God created me, He created me with a heart that absolutely loves people. I thrive on people. I love people. And in that same creation that loves people, He allowed the silence to overtake me.

I am an expert lip reader. I can read your lips one on one. I’m even good—I can do two people. When there’s two people, it’s like watching tennis being played. They’ll talk, they’ll stop. They’ll talk, they’ll stop. They’ll talk, they’ll stop. I can do it.

For every person you add into my mess, I deteriorate because somebody is going to say something, and by the time I find them, they’ve already said it, and they move on. I can’t do it. The very thing that I love, the very thing that I want, I can’t have.

Nancy: Because you wanted to be with people.

Sue: I wanted to be with people. When God created me, He created me with a very, very strong spirit.

He knew that He had to, that I would endure the path of silence, the rejection, the loneliness. He knew that I would have to have the spirit that would endure. So He blessed me with that spirit.

And what I’ve come to realize is that in the strength of that spirit, if it’s used for my will and my desire, it will be for total destruction for anyone around me, including myself. But if that strength is used for the glory of God, it can move mountains. I just had to learn this in my walk with Him for Him to teach me, but I had to hit rock bottom before I began to wise up.

Nancy: And so you set out to find God.

Sue: I set out to find God, and I ended up finding Him at Columbia Bible College and Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina.

Nancy: But I think you went there for an unusual reason—you wanted to find God to show Him that He made a mistake.

Sue: That He made a mistake. Yes.

And He knew that I was coming. I think He was waiting for me because He didn’t just have one person be my friend. He stuck me with twenty people—twenty people! He knew I couldn’t do it. But that’s what He had for the army, for me to face.

Nancy: So that was, twenty people in your class—right?

Sue: Twenty people, that was just my class. We forged as a team. We ate meals together. We studied together. When we were in class, we sang together. We laughed. I was with those twenty people. I laughed with them. I faked it because when I would go back to my apartment, everything within my reach, I totally self-destructed struck with anger.

So many times I cried out to God, “Please give me my hearing.” It was always the same answer: Silence.

Nancy: Now, when you got to the seminary, you told a friend at school something that wasn’t true.

Sue: Right.

Nancy: What did you say?

Sue: I vowed, if God wasn’t about to change my pain, I would take matters into my own hands. I went to one of my friends of that twenty, and I told her a lie. I told her that I had a terminal illness, that I was dying.

How could you? Why would you? Because of my perverted thinking. I thought, if she believed me, she would want to spend as much time with me, one on one. And my thinking was right. That’s exactly what happened.

But I didn’t realize in the split second that I told that lie that it would last for over seven months. And I had no idea that the first person that I told that lie would fan out to not only the twenty people in my group, but it would go out to the entire school.

And surely I had no idea that that lie would totally consume me and destroy me.

The school was praying for healing. But we have a God that knows all, that sees all, that hears all. And He knew that I didn’t need no physical healing.

Nancy: So you had told the student, and who told—everybody heard—that you were dying of a terminal illness.

Sue: I told that one, that fanned out to the twenty, the twenty told, and it was just going out when my advisor at school knew, the professors knew. They were praying.

Nancy: Praying that God would heal you.

Sue: The school praying. And God answered. Not for the physical healing, but with the spiritual healing. When His hand came heavily upon me, when my body was wasting away, my mind became so disoriented, I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the first person I told that lie to, and I said, “Please. Make a phone call for me. I need to see my advisor as soon as possible, and he needs to have another faculty member with him.”

That next morning I met with my advisor. I told the truth, that it had all been a lie. Tears were streaming down my face. I knew that I would have to go to the twenty different people to tell them the truth, and I was ready to do so. But what I didn’t know was I would have to stand before the entire academic committee.

I couldn’t face them. I got my suitcase out and began to pack my bags to run away. As I was packing, my Bible fell on the floor, and it fell open. I reached down, and I just picked it up open, and I put it on my lap. I sat on my bed, and I looked at it. Then I looked down again, and I’m in the book of Hosea. And, Nancy, at that time in my life, I didn’t even know there was a Hosea in the Bible.

So I’m looking in Hosea. I’m in the fourteenth chapter, and I’m starting to read, and I heard God’s voice as I read. It wasn’t just His Word. He was giving me a promise. Hosea 14:1–8, and I use my name: “Oh, Thomas, return to the Lord your God, for you have been crushed by your sin. Take words and come back to me for my anger will be forever gone. I will love you freely, Thomas. You will blossom like a lily. Your words will go deeply into the soils of Lebanon and your people shall return from exile far away and move beneath my shadow.”

I have seen His promise kept in every way. But the last verse, His anger has been gone from me. I see His love every single day. My foot has not been moved.

And when I’m out in the world, people often say, “Oh, you’re so beautiful.” Now, you think, Friends say that, but this hunk of clay, how can they say that?

Then He always has me stopped dead in my tracks when He reminds me that He promised me that I would blossom like a lily. And the people that say that, can see Him. Each one of those things He has promised, and I have vowed that I will see the day for the last person to be fulfilled, that my people shall return from exile far away and will rest beneath the shadow.

The promise was so overpowering that I went on the floor, flat, face down, cried out for mercy, and told Him that I could not walk the path that He had so chosen, that it was unbearable, that I couldn’t do it, that I didn’t want to live, but if this is what He had for me, He had to live in me. He had to do it.

That night, in the dark, I totally surrendered my life to Christ. I totally came to Him in my shame.

Nancy: Now, as you went to seminary, you were looking for God—to make Him confess that He made a mistake! As you left seminary, what was your view about your deafness? Did you still believe God had made a mistake?

Sue: No. You see, from the moment that I surrendered to Him and I said that He had to live in me, there was a healing that began to take place in the acceptance of my deafness. Acceptance is one thing, embracing it and living it is something else.

He had taught me that it was truly in the silence that we hear the still small voice of God—whether you’re hearing or whether you’re deaf. To come into His presence, you can only come with the silence.

So the more I grew in the understanding, the more I sought the silence. I just didn’t embrace it. I grew to love it, knowing that He would speak! The transformation of that cross—when you experience the before and the after—it’s so powerful! It’s even hard to testify what lies in that transformation.

And for me, each day, when I wake up in the silence, I praise Him for the eyes to be able to behold His attributes and His beauties. He has taken something, but He has replaced it with something far greater—the silence.

Nancy: You couldn’t even imagine, when you were thirty-five years old, all the things that God had in store for you, all the ways He planned to use you to proclaim the gospel around the world.

One of the ways that God began to open those doors and those opportunities was through a TV show. Many of our listeners know about you because they’ve seen this television series that’s based on your life and your years at the FBI.

Sue: I will confess to you, as well as to your listeners, that in many ways I have looked at that TV series as a thorn. Why is that? Because the world knows me as “Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye.” But I don’t want the world to know me as “Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye.” I want the world to know me as “God’s greatest sinner saved by His grace—and grace alone!”

When I’m invited to the church, the church wants to hear the FBI. But I’ve come to realize that in this world I’m in exile, for heaven is my home, and this world is my exile. But God has taught me and has showed me that this is the way that He has chosen for me to have the doors open to proclaim the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Dannah: Often, the way up is by first going down, and reaching a point where the only hope we have is in crying out to the Lord for help. 

That’s the host of Revive Our Hearts, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, in conversation with Sue Thomas. You can listen to the audio or read the transcripts of the complete, more extended interview at ReviveOurHearts.com.

Sue’s story is one of several we’re featuring this week— stories that show the redemptive power of God. I love it that each one is unique, and like the facets on a diamond, make Him look more beautiful with each turn.

One of the facets on the diamond of God’s amazing grace is the story of the biblical character Rahab. Even though her occupation had been shameful— she’s often referred to as “Rahab the harlot,” or “Rahab the prostitute”— God had a better plan for her life, including choosing her as one of the great-great-great grandmothers of King David and even Jesus’ earthly parents. Her life shines so beautifully on the pages of Scripture. 

And now you can do that through a brand-new Women of the Bible study from Revive Our Hearts. It’s based on Nancy’s teaching on the life of Rahab. This month we’ll send you your own copy of Rahab: Tracing the Thread of Redemption as a thank you for your donation of any amount. To give, visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call us at 1–800–569–5959. 

Tomorrow, we’ll turn that diamond of grace to look at another bright spot on it. Karen’s life was headed in the totally wrong direction, she and her family were suffering for it, but God saved her. You’ll meet Karen Watts tomorrow.

Please be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants to help you see yourself as a facet in the diamond of God's grace. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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About the Speaker

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has touched the lives of millions of women through Revive Our Hearts and the True Woman movement, calling them to heart revival and biblical womanhood. Her love …

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