’s theme for the month of February is love.

I won’t kid you, it has been a hard week at our house. We have a child recovering from major facial surgery. We’ve had stomach flu running rampant through many children. We’ve seen regression in one son as he struggles with everyone being ill (And when he struggles, we all struggle.) We’ve received the incredibly disheartening news that our state of Illinois is taking so long to approve home studies that we could very well not be able to bring our new daughter home by Christmas–another Christmas missed with her, absolutely needlessly. And we’ve watched friends struggle as their children fight for their lives in the hospital. I have no idea if the darling boy we’ve been praying for all week will have survived by the time you read this. I’m worn out and feel a little as though my heart has been taken out and stomped on.

So how does love fit into this long list of difficulties and complaints?

As a parent, you learn early on that love is much more than that lovey-dovey rainbows and happy trees feeling that you get sometimes. There has to be more to it than that because there are some parts of parenting that are just hard. If you are counting on the sweet feelings getting you through, you will be left empty.

Love is much, much more than this, but I didn’t quite realize how much more until I became an adoptive parent. Love is a verb, a word of action. It is also a choice; sometimes it is a choice we have to make over and over again, hour by hour, and sometimes minute by minute. Because, you see, the truth is that there are times that love can be hard and painful.

Like adoption, itself, love has two sides to it. There is the positive side. The good feelings, everyone is happy, joyful side of love and adoption.

But there is the other side, the side that is filled with hurt and loss. The reality is, you can’t have one without the other. Life isn’t perfect, and by opening ourselves up and choosing to love someone else, we are also opening ourselves to hurt and pain.

I never knew how hard choosing to love someone could be until we brought home our son. Learning to love someone without expecting anything in return was tough. It was sacrifice on a level I had no experience with, yet if I wanted my son to heal, it was what he needed. Honestly, there are moments when it is still tough.

I never knew how hard it would be to wait to bring home a child I had fallen in love with but never held in my arms.

Our second adopted son was 7 months old upon referral. Delay after inexplicable delay caused us to watch him grow up before our eyes. Eighteen months later, we finally brought home our 2-year-old son. I know other parents have waited (and are waiting) for longer than that 18 months. My heart breaks for you because I know how painful it is. I came perilously close to taking up kickboxing as an outlet for my pain and frustration.

I never knew how hard it would be to send our third adopted child into surgery after surgery. I knew it would be difficult and a little scary, but sometimes things are more than you imagine. I hate having to tell my daughter she will be having more surgery. I hate her being afraid. I hate her being in pain. I hate that these surgeries are a choice we make for her. We do it because we love her and want what’s best for her, but boy, emotionally, it feels so wrong.

In each of these cases, choosing to love meant choosing to suffer with and for our children. But it also meant choosing times of joy greater than I could have imagined. It is such a privilege to have these children in our lives. The love and joy we receive from being their parents always outweighs the hurt and pain.

If I were given a glimpse of the hard work and pain ahead, would I choose to love again? Clearly, the answer is yes, since we are once again in process to adopt. I have no idea what lies ahead of us. None of us know, really. We can only accept the hard stuff and focus on the joy. That’s love: an unconditional commitment to seek the best for another person in all life’s pain and joy.