Late on the evening of July 7, 2005, I sat across the table from my beautiful wife. We were celebrating our sixteenth wedding anniversary, and we were doing it in style, on the patio of a rooftop restaurant situated across the street from the White House. The setting sun cast a gorgeous glow across the Mall, lighting the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial in oranges and yellows.
We had only been in the DC area for a few months. We were directing a prayer ministry’s internship as it focused on the pro-life cause. Every day was a new adventure in what we had quickly decided was the best city in the world. Our housing was chaotic, as we shared it with fifty to seventy college age interns.
As we reflected on sixteen years of marriage, Kelsey broke a rule we had established a few weeks earlier. Money was tight, and we had agreed that this year we would not exchange gifts. Nevertheless, she smiled and slipped a small box across the table towards me.
She said, “I know we weren’t going to do gifts, but I saw this … and I just had to.”
At first glance, it looked as if it might contain an ink pen. I had recently been leaning into my desire to write more, and I thought maybe it was an encouragement to do so. Then I removed the top of the box.
There, nestled where an ink pen might have been, rested a pregnancy test. It clearly indicating that we were expecting our fourth child. I was overcome with emotion, with love for this woman, and gratefulness to the Lord. We had long wanted another baby, and it was the goodness of God that He would gift us with a child in this season of standing for children.
The next morning, we made our grand announcement to our three boys, then ages 12, 8 and 4, and later to our interns, who cheered so loudly we thought the roof might come off. It was a glorious celebration of fourteen years of marriage.
Within a week, Kelsey lay on a gurney in the hallway of a Washington, DC hospital, lined up against the wall between a homeless man and a fire extinguisher. As Emergency Room nurses ran back and forth doing triage, sorting gunshot victims from people who might need stitches, I stood holding her hand. I tried to comfort her, but I was as scared as she was, and soon we knew that what we feared happening was becoming a reality. She was miscarrying, and we were losing our baby.
The days that followed were a blur. We found ourselves managing our own emotions as well as those of our interns who had been praying so diligently for the pro life cause. They were as confused as we were.
Kelsey and I took some time off, left town with our boys and tried to heal her body and our hearts. Even so, in those moments when my mind should have gone back to rest, I found it going to that restaurant on the rooftop, to the view of my bride in the glow of the sunset, and to that little gift box. I couldn’t understand how something that seemed so perfect had turned out horribly wrong.
In the moments our hearts hurt the most, the Lord is at work. In times we cannot see a way forward or good on the horizon, He hovers over the surface of the waters, ready to create life. In a rapid, unexpected turn of events, within a year we found ourselves hip deep in paperwork and fundraising. A few months later, we had a newborn, adopted daughter named Zoe.
Two years later, through the telling of our adoption story, I was contacted by a stranger whose sister-in-law had just given birth to twin girls. We adopted the twins in a crazy 24 hour whirlwind of activity. We named them Anna River and Mercy Rain.
Anna and Mercy
Sitting in the hospital waiting room as we prepared to leave with the twins, I realized that we may never have adopted them had we not adopted Zoe. It was her story that brought the twins to us. Likewise, we would never have adopted Zoe had that earlier baby gone full term. We would not have considered adoption with a newborn. The loss of that baby opened the door to three more souls coming into our home.
Six weeks after getting the twins, we discovered Kelsey was pregnant again. We were excited, but tentative. Kelsey was near the sixth month before I started letting my heart entertain the idea of Kelsey bearing a child full term.
Eight months later, Kelsey delivered a beautiful baby girl. She was small but wonderfully healthy. We gave thanks to God and named her Piper Eden Key Bohlender.
The next morning, I woke up on the hospital couch. In those early morning moments, I reveled in the goodness of God. Over my coffee and scattered morning thoughts, it occurred to me — it was July 7, 2009, our twentieth wedding anniversary.
The Lord, in His infinite wisdom, had chosen to bless us in the same season that had been so hard so many years before. It was the best anniversary gift ever given.