In 1996, Robert Allen (“R. A.”) Dickey was the heralded No. 1 draft choice of the Texas Rangers, but after a routine physical, his $810,000 signing bonus—and his lifelong dream—were ripped away when an MRI revealed that his right elbow was missing its ulnar collateral ligament (UCL—the one repaired in “Tommy-John surgery”). After a long fight to make his way back to the big leagues, Dickey got his shot—and set an ignominious record in his start for Texas. He gave up six homeruns in three innings! Consigned to baseball’s scrap heap, he battled back again, and today he has emerged as one of the top pitchers in MLB, having pitched for the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, and is currently with the Toronto Blue Jays. Because of spending so many years in the minor leagues, he lost some of the speed on his fast ball and resorted to learning to pitch a knuckleball which took him several years to master, getting help from such great knuckleball pitchers as Charlie Hough, Phil Niekro, and Tim Wakefield.
While with the New York Mets, Dickey became the first knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young Award (in 2012). He set a franchise record of 44 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings. He ended up the year with 20 wins, 5 complete games, 3 shutouts, 233 2/3 innings pitched, 230 strikeouts, and a 2.73 ERA. (Not bad for someone with no UCL to stabilize his elbow!)
R.A. is married and has two daughters and two sons. He helps operate the Ocala, Florida-based “Honoring the Father Ministries” which provides medical supplies, powdered milk and baseball equipment to the impoverished in Latin America. In 2012 he was not only the Cy Young winner but also, along with two other baseball players, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise funds for “Bombay Teen Challenge” that ministers to victims of human trafficking in India. They raised more than $100,000.
Dickey grew up in a very dysfunctional family. His mother was an alcoholic and his parents ended up divorced. He was also sexually abused by a 13-year old baby sitter and later by a teenage boy. He kept all this secret for years and really struggled with who he was. Fortunately he was befriended by a Christian family who introduced Him to Christ as Savior. But, he continued to struggle with his deep dark secrets until he finally spilled it all out to his wife who had great difficulty forgiving him and they ended up going through a heart-rending separation. His self-esteem was at an all-time low and he felt he’d turned his life into a hopeless tangle of problems. He started thinking of ways to take his life, but the Holy Spirit kept speaking to his heart reminding him that he is no quitter and had too much to live for, that, though he’d made horrible mistakes and hurt people he had the Lord in His heart and was loved. The more he thought of leaving his children fatherless, the more abhorrent the thoughts of suicide became. In his torment, he chose hope.
He looked up a Christian counselor, Stephen James, who had been recommended to him by a friend. After many visits with Stephen, R.A. finally opened up and told his story. The healing process began, but there would soon be a major turning point in his life, not only in his walk with the Lord, and in his relationship to his wife and children, but in his baseball career. He was pitching in the minor league and staying in the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Council Bluffs, Iowa. It was June 9, 2007, and he was looking out the window at the Missouri River far below., observing that “It is big and brown, probably 250 yards across, with a swift current and sludgy texture.” The first time he had seen the Missouri from a similar viewpoint was in 2002 from a hotel in Omaha. His first thought when he saw the mighty Missouri was: “Boy, would it be cool to swim across that. One day I’m going to do it.”
Well, it was now five years later, and he decided it was the day to do it, even though they had a game that evening. His team- mates, who thought he was totally out of his mind, couldn’t dissuade him, so instead wagered as to whether or not he would make it. Though he was a strong swimmer, the Missouri proved to be swifter and wider than he had anticipated and he found himself exhausted and sinking to the bottom. He was sure that was the end. He had quite a conversation with God. His life had finally “bottomed out”—literally! But God wasn’t finished with him yet (after all, he had to pitch that night and had a book to write!). He managed to gain enough strength to push off the bottom back toward shore where a teammate was able to grab onto him and get him up on the river bank. The amazing thing is, he entered the Missouri with a 3-4 record and a 5.87 ERA and came out to establish a 10-2 record and a 2.42 ERA the rest of the season. The experience became the turning point, not only in his baseball career, but also in his walk with the Lord, and his relationship with his family. He had finally accepted God’s forgiveness and was completely free to be the person God wanted him to be. Of that day in June, 2007, R.A. said: “The Missouri may not be holy water and people may not go there to be baptized and seek absolution of their sins, but nobody can tell me that God didn’t use it to humble me and help me and recharge my faith and reset my focus. I jumped in to prove my worth and failed spectacularly, but wound up with one of the greatest gifts of my life. What a deal. What a day—the day God’s grace showed me how to stop clinging…and start living.”
I am reminded of similar accounts in the Bible where individuals had their “baptisms in the Missouri.” Jacob (heel catcher; trickster), whose very name reflected his lifestyle of trickery and deceit ended up in a wrestling match (agonizing in prayer) one night with the pre-incarnate Christ. Jacob ended up with a limp as a reminder of that encounter and God changed his name to Israel which means “he wrestles or persists with God—in prevailing prayer”. It was the turning point in Jacob’s life. He was never the same (Gen. 32:22-32).
Of course, we also have the familiar story of Jonah and his experience in the belly of the great fish that God sent to save him from drowning. Jonah too, agonized in prayer and ended up going where God had initially sent him, to Nineveh to warn of coming judgment if they didn’t repent. Unfortunately, though Jonah obeyed this time, he didn’t change his attitude toward the Ninevites.
King David, too, had a major turning point in his life when God sent the prophet Nathaniel (just as God put Stephen James in R.A. Dickey’s life) to confront him regarding his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the death of her husband, Uriah. David wrote in Psa. 32:3,4,1,2: “When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, ‘ I will confess my transgressions to the LORD’ and Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin. How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit is not deceit!” David also recorded his prayer to God for forgiveness in Psa. 51, saying: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Thy loving kindness; according to the greatness of Thy compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against Thee, Thee only I have sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight…Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow…Create in my a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me…Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation…” (vv. 1-12).
I have also heard or read numerous testimonies of believers who had major turning points in their lives, usually through a very difficult time when they came to the end of themselves (bottomed out) and gave the Lord full control. It is a matter of being “broken” in order to start relying on the Lord rather than our own strength. For some it may come at the time of their conversion to Christ, but for many it comes later in their Christian life when some difficult circumstances (often of their own doing) bring them to a place of complete surrender where they stop clinging to self and cast themselves totally in dependence upon their Savior.
How about you? Have you had such a “Turning Point” in your life? Who or what are you depending on? Jesus came not only to bring eternal life, but to bring abundant life (Jn. 10:10) but we must let go of trying to live the Christian life on our own strength and live moment by moment in dependence upon Him to experience that “abundant life.”
P.S. I highly recommend you get a copy of “Wherever I wind Up” by R.A. Dickey and read the rest of his amazing story.