Leslie Basham: Sue Thomas is an expert at reading lips. It got her a job at the FBI, which inspired a TV program. But none of those things give her identity.
Sue Thomas: 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!”
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of The Wonder of His Name, for November 29, 2017.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: The conversation we’ve been listening to over the past few days represents a first for me. I’d never before conducted an interview with someone who couldn’t hear my questions . . . until I met Sue Thomas, an expert lip reader.
I have to say that this interview is one of the sweetest that I can remember having in a very long time. Now, let’s review just a little bit of what we’ve heard from Sue the last couple of days.
Nancy: 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 that because I was deaf, I wouldn’t understand, that 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 to offer. I was like a gopher, a jack-of-all- trades.
I can remember some days taking paper clips out of one box and sticking them in another closet. That was my job. But God was still writing the chapter of my life, because there was a friend that was at that speech clinic who in turn had a friend that worked for the Federal Government, who in turn had a friend that 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 you got the message that there might be a job for you at the FBI.
Sue: What I didn’t realize was that they were looking for deaf people to start a new program researching classified fingerprints. All those funny lines on the fingertips are fingerprints, and no two people have the same.
They thought if deaf people would come and search the fingerprints, it would be a lot faster and a lot more detailed than having a hearing person do it, which was currently the way it happened.
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 of the count again.
Or if somebody dropped a book, they would find out what book was dropped, and they would have to start again—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 would never see it, so they would just keep counting. And that’s the way it was. But that wasn’t what God made me for, to count lines. I’m a people person; I love people. There’s a whole other session about that.
But 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. And there were only two reasons a person went to the front office—either to be terminated from their job or to be interrogated by the FBI agent.
So I went to the front office that day. When I walked in, there were nine men waiting for me, and they told me to sit down. They started asking me questions. And in the end, I came to realize that they had a big problem!
They were working on a case in which they videofilmed the suspect. But in this particular case, when the camera activated, the sound mechanism failed. They had all this film with the bad guy talking, but they couldn’t hear him.
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; 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 I had a whole unique job. I became known as “the secret weapon for the FBI.”
Nancy: When we left off yesterday, Sue Thomas was thirty-five years old, and she had just come to faith in Jesus Christ—an experience that gave her, for the first time, freedom from her shame and sin.
She realized she was completely forgiven, but she still needed to clear her conscience with those that she had wronged. That meant going before a Board at a Bible college, where she had lied on some paperwork.
And that Board included a man who had especially invested in her life.
Sue: So I was out of tears and feeling the shame. I know, when I cry my speech is very garbled. I know that they have a hard time hearing. But my eyes were transfixed on one man, and as I was sharing, he was sitting in the chair. Then I saw him bend over, and he put his head in his hands and I saw tears falling. He was shaking his head back and forth like, “No!” He was in disbelief. That day, I realized that there was one man that wept for my sins, and that man was Dr. Robertson McQuilken, President of the Bible college and seminary.
It would be twenty years after I left, that I knew that he was speaking somewhere. I had to go and see him, to thank him. When I got there, unknown to me, they put me at the dinner table right next to him.
As I arrived and I sat down, he looked at me, and he reached over and he patted my hand. He said, “Oh, Sue. I am so proud of you!” And with that, I started to choke. I mean, the tears started to well up, and I knew I had to get out of there!
I looked at him, and I said, “Dr. McQuilken, you have to excuse me for a minute; I’ll be right back.” As I’m walking out of the cafeteria, the tears are streaming down my eyes. I’m saying to God, “He doesn’t remember. He can’t possibly remember.”
I came back, and I was composed. I looked at him and I said, “Dr. McQuilken, I came specifically so I could meet with you, privately, for just a moment—sooner rather than later. Is there any time?” He said, “Tomorrow morning.”
I said, “Okay.”
I met with him, and I met with the current President, at the time, of Columbia Bible College—those two men together, and my assistant Deb was with me. I looked across and I said, “Dr. McQuilken, do you remember—in your tenure—was there ever a time when you kicked someone out of the school?”
And he looked at me and he paused. He was thinking. He finally said, “Well, I don’t think so, but I really don’t remember.” Then he leaned forward and he looked me straight in the eye, and he said, “Did we kick you out?”
I said, “No sir, you didn’t—but you could have. Maybe some would have thought that you should have, but you didn’t. And because you didn’t, you taught me the biblical principle of the love, of the forgiving, of the healing, of the restoring, and then the sending. Basically, because of you, I have eternity, and I have had my desire to make Him known.”
That was the one thing that, when I came to the cross, was my whole heart’s desire—that He would send me to every nation, to every generation, to proclaim His love and forgiveness.
“And by your forgiving me, you have allowed that to happen.” Well, we went on to become very close friends. He was my spiritual father, and last spring when I went to Columbia to speak to the chapel, I knew it would be the last time that I would see him.
But the main thing . . . I know the Man that saved my life, and I knew the man that wept for me. The Man that died, and the man that wept . . . and it’s made all the difference!
Nancy: Jesus, who died for you and the President of that Bible college who wept for you. I’m thinking about some mom, some dad, some teacher listening today who is grieving over the lostness of the sinfulness of someone they love and saying, “Those tears will not be in vain.” God is going to water those tears with His grace.
It was through those man’s tears—Dr. McQuilken, who is now with Jesus—it was through those tears that God brought you to experience His love and His grace and His forgiveness in a way you had never experienced before.
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.
I would wish for every brother and sister that they would have the silence in their day—the stillness, the total silence. That’s a little hard, because I realize you will hear the birds sing, you will hear the surroundings, as far as that.
Me, I close my eyes, and I’m in the presence of God! And wow! It’s really a “wow factor” that I wish everybody could experience! I think you just have to stop and wait for that moment.
Nancy: Maybe that’s what David was thinking when he wrote in Psalm 62:1–2, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.”
And so, David had many things going on around him, much noise, much war, many things with his kingdom, many people to listen to, many people wanting him to talk to them, but he would go to that quiet place and would say, “My soul waits in silence for God.”
Sue: Is that where we find Him, in the cave all the time?
Nancy: That’s where Elijah found Him too, isn’t it? In the silence, in the cave.
Well, as I’m listening to you talk, I’m thinking about a book that my husband and I plan to write together called, You Can Trust God to Write Your Story. I’m listening to your story, and I’m thinking how God has written a script for your life that is different than you would have ever chosen . . . but it is beautiful!
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.
So, tell us how that show—it’s called Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye—how did that show come about?
Sue: Shortly after I wrote the book Silent Night, a man picked it up and read it. He approached me about making it into a movie about my life. That man was the Vice-president of Columbia motion pictures. We went on a journey there, where I saw Hollywood in a way that very, very few people do.
I was wined and dined ,and the executive president said they wanted this movie. But we were at a crossroads during this time, where SONY International was buying out Coca-Cola for the ownership, and the movie kind of fell between the cracks during this transition.
But the writers that wrote the script of the movie kept it, and for all these years it lay dormant in their hands until they pitched it to make it into a weekly TV series. So there were years that went by before it actually happened, and then the TV series came out.
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.
It was shown for three-and-a-half years here in the United States with a viewership of three- to four-million people. But remember I said, when I came to the foot of the cross, it was my desire that He would send me to every nation, to every generation. I didn’t know how He would do it.
But once again, He would use the FBI and the TV show! Sixty-four nations around the world watch Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye.
Nancy: You told me that when you went to India to speak.
Nancy: People would come—crowds would come—to hear you because they had seen Sue Thomas: F.B. Eye over in India.
Sue: I mean, we get emails from all around the world: Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa—I mean, sixty-four nations! It’s all about the TV show, but there’s a way that I can correct them, by sharing the truth of the story of Sue Thomas and the Sovereign grace of God.
So God has used this. We went to India for three weeks, speaking to the multitude of thousands. We’ve been to Japan, to Germany. He has used it. He has brought me low with frailness, with illness, and I’ve been basically off the road, and my voice has not been heard for almost seven years.
But He has restored me. He’s bringing me back, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the journey!
Nancy: You just referred to illness in your life. You have multiple sclerosis.
Nancy: How did you come to find out about that diagnosis?
Sue: It would be sixteen years this February. I was on my way to Dallas, Texas, to do a huge women’s conference. It was the week before, and my little index finger went numb . . . and it kept spreading as the week went by. It went up to my shoulder.
I saw the doctor, and we did CAT scans and x-rays. Basically, he did not want me to go to Texas. I told him I was their only keynote speaker; I had to go. So he said, “Okay, go, but as soon as you get there, call me, and let me know you made it okay.” And I went.
I did the opening session. I wasn’t even halfway through when I was getting violently ill. I knew I had to get off the platform. Now, I’m in a group of like ten-thousand women, and I looked at them and I said, “You know, we’ve been talking about some heavy things here. We need to take a break, and I want you to sit in the silence and listen to the still small voice of God. I’m going to give you a few moments, and then we’re going to start again.”
I walked off the platform. I passed the music team, and I said, “Give them a few moments, and then sing appropriate hymns that are appropriate with the silence. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
I went to the women’s restroom. I was so sick! I’m throwing cold water all over me and basically walk out. As I’m leaving the restroom, I’m dripping water coming off my dress. I get back on to the platform, and by His grace, I was able to finish.
I went straight to the emergency room where they did more tests. They couldn’t find anything. The next day I did two more addresses, and I came home. By the time I came home, the test revealed that everything pointed to multiple sclerosis.
I had no idea what the disease was! I even had a hard time pronouncing the name, which is MS. I was at a crossroads, Nancy. It was another crossroads. I had mumbled and grumbled and fought my deafness for thirty-five years. Now I was faced with MS!
What was I going to do with it? Was it going to be a repeat, or was I going to walk humbly with my God and embrace it? I chose the latter, and I can testify to the fact—by walking with this disease—it has taught me grace in a way that I had never known,
Nancy: You have been a conduit of that grace to other people through your speaking . . . but not just to large crowds, not just in traveling around the world. You have a heart for people anywhere and everywhere who need the grace of God.
Leslie: Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has been talking with our guest, Sue Thomas. It was the first interview we have ever done in which the guest couldn’t hear the questions. She was reading Nancy’s lips here in our studio.
If you’ve missed any of the dramatic story of Sue Thomas, you can hear earlier episodes at ReviveOurHearts.com. We’re able to bring you encouraging, real-life stories of God’s grace, thanks to listeners who appreciate what they hear.