One of the hardest things about living as an ex-pat in Cyprus - or, indeed, anywhere else - is being far away from our family. Bad enough when we moved here fifteen years ago, saying goodbye to relatives and friends, changing our lifestyle, getting used to a new culture. But that was nothing compared to the pain of saying goodbye to our sons when they - for different but excellent reasons - both left home, when they were nineteen.
This month seems to have been particularly poignant, thinking about loved ones in the UK. We missed an important family birthday at the start of the month: it was great to spend some time chatting on Facetime:
But obviously not the same as being there in real life. We're missing another family get-together for another special birthday this weekend.
Worse still, in a sense, is not being around when we might be needed. When relatives are taken to hospital, we feel helpless, unable to do anything from this distance, other than to pray... and breathe a sigh of relief when they return home.
A few days ago I felt helpless again when our younger son Tim was hit by a car when crossing a road in the evening in heavy rain. He said it was only a relatively minor hit, but still - a speeding car which knocked someone down and sped away is a terrifying thought for any parent. I was overwhelmingly thankful that it was not a split second earlier, that he was on his way to a small group where he could be looked after and given some ice, and that he seemed to be reasonably all right the following morning, which is when we first heard about it. Unfortunately he's still in pain nearly a week later; nothing is broken, but he has badly pulled ligaments. I wouldn't be able to do anything if I were there - but it's hard being so far away. We're looking forward very much to seeing him for a few weeks over Christmas when he comes to visit.
As for Daniel and Becky, they are even further away, as they have now gone to spend three months on the ship Logos Hope. They had also hoped to come to Cyprus for Christmas, but just three weeks ago were asked if they could fly out to join the ship at the end of the month. They departed on Monday evening, and arrived in the Philippines this morning (which was late last night, Cyprus time). It was a long, long journey and they are very tired, as well as somewhat overwhelmed with the tasks ahead of them. I was extremely pleased to receive an email from Daniel this morning, letting us know that they had got there safely.
Feeling a bit morose, I looked through my photos to choose the one which I placed near the start of this email. And noticed, of course, many pictures of local friends. I thought about Easter, when two couples who have become close to us came to lunch, and last Christmas when our other good friends came over for the day.
And then I saw this, taken recently, which reminded me that although our own children are grown up and our blood relatives are all far away, there are some lovely small people who live close by, and who have pretty much adopted us as part of their extended family:
This sounds like a cliché and I hate 'religious jargon'... but can't think of a better way to put it: we are very blessed.