Christmas Eve 1992 presented Nadine and Robert Milford of Albuquerque, N.M., with one of life’s defining moments.
Late that evening, the car carrying their daughter Melanie Cravens, son-in-law Paul and three granddaughters was struck by a speeding truck going the wrong way down Interstate 40 west of town. The driver of the truck had been drinking.
Melanie and the girls, ages 9, 8 and 5, were killed instantly. Paul suffered multiple injuries, the effects of which linger today.
Only hours after the crash that shattered their family, Nadine Milford was on the phone with reporters, speaking out eloquently and forcefully about the results of mixing alcohol and cars.
Since then, she has become widely known in the New Mexico state Legislature as a lobbyist for DWI reforms. She also works through MADD, frequently visiting with families of drunk-driving victims to offer support.
Largely because of Milford’s efforts, New Mexico has lowered its legal level of intoxication from 0.10 to 0.08 percent and closed all of its drive-up liquor windows. It has also mandated jail time for drivers with a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 percent or more and passed a law allowing judges to require that repeat offenders install ignition interlocks on their vehicles. The device, a type of Breathalyzer attached to the ignition, prevents a car from starting when it detects that the driver has been drinking.
The prospects for any one of these things didn’t appear too promising at first.
Following the accident, Milford’s pastor invited a group of legislators to talk with her and her family. The lawmakers reported that they had tried to pass stricter DWI laws but couldn’t get enough support from fellow legislators. There was nothing else they could do, they claimed.
Milford decided there was plenty she could do, however. With the help of fellow church members, she collected more than 80,000 signatures advocating DWI law reforms and presented these to lawmakers. Apparently they could do something after all. They passed the new laws.
Milford has not stopped her efforts. She writes letters, speaks at schools and council meetings and makes regular appearances at the capitol. Her goal is to eliminate drunk driving.
Circumstances of all kinds can knock us off our feet, push us off course and cause us to lose focus. Some experiences are so difficult or intense that they change us forever. Some individuals, and some churches, never recover. Healthy ones do.
Nadine Milford made a deliberate choice not to let her anger and grief paralyze and define her. Instead, she defined herself in light of what had happened. She became an agent of positive change and an example for individuals as well as churches.
Courageous churches acknowledge their problems, crises and conflicts and deal with them positively and productively without allowing the circumstances to define them.
In spite of what happens, they know who they are, and whose they are.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.