Maxine Grayson: I know in my heart this is it
“Don’t kill me! Please don’t kill me!” The terrified woman screams as the stranger reveals a hand gun and presses its bore against her head.. Yet unmoved, the man laughs aloud relentlessly as she continues to plead for her very life!
Night shadows slip surreptitiously about the grotesque drama unfolding within the car parked street-side. After several minutes, cackling insanely, the man slowly lowers his weapon and sneers. “I’m not going to kill you. I just wanted to give you an example of what could happen to you out here on the streets!”
Years later, wiping her eyes and trembling, Maxine Grayson, 52, vividly recalls the traumatic incident. “He just let me keep on begging and crying. Apparently he got his thrills from scaring us. Eventually, he told me to get out of the car.
“My lifestyle didn’t change, though, because I was hooked.” The Fresno ARC graduate explains: “I continued to sell my body and steal–to do anything–to get the cocaine! More than once I was raped and beaten; still I couldn’t stop!”
Maxine’s hard story begins in “the projects” section of Watts. The second of five children from a single-parent household, she remembers how her mother “drank all the time.” “A good mother,” she nevertheless had relationships with “many different men, and there was much arguing and fighting.” She died at 44 of cirrhosis of the liver.
Maxine had her first child at 16. Feeling “stuck” in her marriage, she began drinking heavily and left her husband. She relates that she continued having children and “making bad choices in men–I was living just as my mother did but didn’t know how to stop!”
Eventually she was introduced to cocaine. “The drug took over. I still drank, but the cocaine was now my priority, controlling all my decisions. My life went even further downhill fast!”
Over the years, she became ever more desperate. “I had fallen so low that I felt the Lord had turned his back on me.” Soon after she moved to Santa Maria, CA, however, “the Lord finally found me.” Maxine answered a newspaper ad to “ring the bell” for The Salvation Army during the Christmas season, 1994. “Even then I couldn’t stay sober two weeks.”
One day, while making the rounds to drop off the kettle workers, the corps officer, (then Lieutenant) John Brackenbury, asked, “Maxine, how are you doing?” She tells the story: “I said, ‘Oh, fine.’ He said, ‘Maxine, how are you REALLY doing?’ At that moment, I knew the Lord was opening up a door for me, and I told him: ‘I’m addicted to drugs and alcohol and living in adultery. I’m estranged from my kids and spiritually bankrupt.’
“He asked, ‘Would you like to get clean?’ I said, ‘Yes!’ And he said, ‘Whenever you really get serious and want that help, well, you come see me.'” Maxine did and soon found herself standing gratefully before the entrance of the Fresno ARC Rosecrest women’s facility. She relates how, over the months ahead, “The Lord did a mighty work in my heart. The Salvation Army made me become a woman.
“Today I know that God never turned his back on me; rather I turned my back on him, and when I turned back around, his mercy was there waiting. I had prayed: ‘Oh, Lord, I’m too old, and I’m tired. I promise that if you give me just one more chance, I’m going to take it and run with it.’ And I did.
“My son came to my graduation ceremony and told me afterwards: ‘Mama, many times you have tried to get clean and sober, but, mama, because of the way you spoke tonight, I know in my heart this is it.’
“And I know in my heart this is it. I thank the Lord for a place like The Salvation Army where lives can be restored.”