Friday, December 18, 2015

Michael Barranco Endowed Memorial Fellowship

Dear Friends,

The family of Michael Barranco,Sr. - along with friends, business colleagues, and organizations around the state of Mississippi - has established an endowed fellowship within the Mississippi State University Foundation in Michael's honor. This endowed fellowship will reside within the Mississippi State University School of Architecture and will annually support an outstanding undergraduate Architecture student with demonstrated financial need.

A 1985 graduate of the MSU School of Architecture, Michael was a devoted promoter of the profession of architecture as a benefactor of communities and people. Michael had a passion for the importance of travel that opened the architectural world to students and prospective students of architecture. Michael was convinced that the opportunity to see, sketch, and experience important works of architecture is critical for the development of a student's architectural education, the continuation of their passion for the art, and a holistic understanding of the place architecture holds in cultures and societies through the span of time.

The spirit and purpose of the Michael Barranco Endowed Memorial Fellowship is to provide funds for students in the School of Architecture to have this experience through travel. The fellowship is open to Mississippi State University Architecture students that are participating in travel programs sponsored by the School that focus
 on experiencing significant works of architecture. These programs include the design studio field trips, domestic or international travel, and study abroad programs offered by the School of Architecture.

We invite you to consider making a gift this holiday to this fund.  It requires a minimum of $25,000 to establish an endowment in Michael's honor. We are over half way there!  Contributions made by check should be made out to the Michael Barranco Endowed Memorial Fellowship and mailed to the MSU Foundation, P.O. Box 6149, Mississippi State, MS, 39762. Electronic contributions can be made at Should you have any questions or wish to contribute by phone, please call Lynn Shurden Durr at the MSU Foundation at 662.325.8918. 

We thank you in advance for your generosity in Michael's honor and the difference it will make in the lives of architecture students for years to come.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
Jene', Mia, Julia, and Michael Anthony Barranco

Michael Barranco sketching and watercoloring in Cefalu, Sicily on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Monday, November 2, 2015

An Opener of Doors

I discovered a card one day in my nightstand over a year ago.  A card I had not read, (or possibly had never read), or seen in years.  It felt as if it had been dropped down from heaven.  An invisible nudge curiously prompted me that day to pull open the drawer and dig through its belongings.

September 5, 2007.  My 20th wedding anniversary.  It was a note from my husband Michael.  Because I had no remembrance of it and it was sealed as if it had never been opened, I felt that I was receiving encouragement from heavenly places.  As I read the card I heard him.  I felt him. “You can do this Babe!

The words on this card were exactly what I needed to hear at that moment – and they continue to be.  I needed to hear encouragement from someone who knew exactly where my heart was tender during this point in my journey through the Midnight Hour.  Someone who recognized my hesitation.  Someone who saw that I was beginning to question myself.  Someone who had been my personal cheering section for more than half of my life.

We had always been two who created our own path together. We opened doors – but courage rises when surrounded by a loving travel companion.  A journey of solitude requires courage from unknown depths.  I was on a solitary journey.

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path & leave a trail. Always do what you are afraid to do.  Be an opener of doors.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

Michael’s words to me, “How amazing it is to look back and see the incredible trails that our journey has created as Christ leads us.  As I do look back, I realize also that I could not have, nor would have ventured out without your encouragement and quiet prompting.  For this I am thankful.”  Now it was my turn to receive that encouragement and quiet prompting. “My prayer is that these trails will become roads for our children as they grow.  That as they travel them, they too (as God directs) will venture off creating roads of their own. Thank you for helping remove the fear of the unknown.  Thank you for opening the door of my heart!

I have kept this card near my chair where I write and read my Bible, or sometimes on top of my night stand, so that I can pick it up any time I need these words to whisper to me…”Go…Don’t be afraid…blaze a trail…do it for our children…be an example to them of courage. Be an opener of doors.

Open doors where no one has gone before. Walk through them...with eyes straight ahead.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Courage - fear that has said its prayers

In The Fellowship of the Ring, one of my late husband’s and my favorite books, J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “not all who wander are lost.”  Even though I felt lost when Michael died, my time alone with God made me realize I was not lost but was on a solitary mission to rediscover life, regain strength, and clarify my purpose.  I found myself on a dark and winding course but I knew my purpose could only come from being near to God by following close behind him, and so I wandered with intention.

Courage – fear that has said its prayers.

After much soul searching and prayer I decided to move to New York State—from the Deep South of Jackson, Mississippi to the heart of the northeast in the Hudson River Valley.  From southern accents, family, neighbors, lifetime friends, sweet tea and grits, and a familiar culture to rural countryside, no connections, no family, no friends, and no sweet tea in restaurants. I could not even find black-eyed peas or grits in the grocery store at first. The change was difficult but necessary.

Courage – fear that has said its prayers.

My actions may have looked aimless, but I knew I was wandering with God and with intention. When people asked Why move? Why New York? I was not able to give a firm answer. Most of the time I simply said, “I don’t know yet but I know I am going to find out.” And every day I learned a little more about why God had took us there. Every time I looked out the floor to ceiling windows, I felt the weight of grief lift a little bit more as I breathed in nothing but nature—the trees, the mountains, the sunrises, the sunsets, the wild turkey, the deer, the change of seasons in the woods, the hush after a heavy snow. Each time I took in the beauty, I felt as if God was saying, “This is why I brought you here.” It reminded me of Rivendell in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, a beautiful, protected, hidden refuge in the misty mountains where Frodo Baggins and his band of companions pull away to rest, gain counsel, build strength, courage, and plan for the future.  The beauty of God’s creation and the peaceful calm that surrounded us while hidden in the countryside of the Hudson Valley was a healing balm to every ounce of my being and a constant reminder that He was with us. We had room for new emotions to emerge, we could recognize and deal with our pains head on, and His voice was easier to discern – all because He had pulled us back and placed us somewhere that forced the children and me to lean completely on Him and one another, without the distractions that came from all the familiar things back in Mississippi.

It was a refreshing change.  Refreshing to have a clean start, to be in an entirely new and different place and not have dark clouds hanging over us everywhere we went.  Refreshing that absolutely no one knew our story.  It was the bravest thing I had ever done and the hardest thing for others to understand.

My wandering served a purpose.  It helped me find a way to move forward without feeling guilty; guilty because as I moved on I was also leaving my grief behind.  I had to give myself permission to wander with God as my lead.  I trusted God to lead me through the wilderness and toward the plans He had for my life that lay ahead of me.

Courage – fear that has said its prayers.

Jesus wandered in the desert before launching ahead into his life’s purpose but his wandering was far from aimless. As the Holy Spirit led him, I hoped He could also lead me during my time of wandering.   It was through the wandering that I found my truest path and became wiser, I hope, for the wandering.  My wandering became a time of intense guidance from God.  It drew me even closer to Him and gave me strength, confidence, and a renewed purpose. It gave me courage.  At times this strength felt supernatural. It was as if God had placed blinders on me to help me plow straight ahead without slowing down to look to my side or to turn back.
This time of wandering added a new dimension to the grief process.  I was still experiencing the waves of grief that often swept over me, I was still walking through the darkness of what I refer to as the Midnight Hour, I was still making sense of my life as a single parent and discovering who Jene’ Barranco was without Michael Barranco. But now, I was also intimately in touch with God. I followed Him as closely as possible. The closer I walked to Him, the greater the courage. I had the strength to wander with Him towards our future and our complete healing, wherever it took us.  I chose to pull away from the noise and go against the mainstream to wander with God on this road to heal our wounded hearts and restore of our lives. We had to wander alone for a season, away from the familiar, in order to gain deep, pure strength. I trusted God that he would hold my hand—the hands of my children—and reveal to us the next phase and purpose for our lives.

God took the fear of the unknown during our wandering and molded it into the courage we needed to propel forward into the darkness, towards His plans for us - that lay on the other side of the darkness.

Eyes Straight Ahead….

Monday, May 25, 2015

Tears of a Different Kind – Again

Just when I thought I was beginning to experience a bit of calm after the storm, my kids began walking through their own storms, and because I am their mother, there was no way to avoid getting sucked back into the new tsunamis that were striking each one of them at staggering intervals.  Just as tsunamis rise up from beneath with life threatening force and without warning, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can suddenly rise up from the deep causing you to hold on to your life with every ounce of strength you have just to stay on your feet and to continue breathing.  You don’t see it coming until it smacks you in the face and takes your breath away.

When I wrote about Tears of a Different Kind the first year after Michael died, I was not referring to the tears associated with grief but the tears associated with the gravity of parenting as a suddenly single parent. Every detail of parenting gained weight as I moved forward and carried this responsibility as a lone parent.  If I had no longer felt the weight, it would have been a bad sign that I was giving up on life, but I had no intention of giving up.  I chose to “fight the good fight of faith.“ - I began to understand this quote from Paul better.  It is a fight and we must battle for our children daily.

There is pain and the shedding of tears in most every fight.

Now, over four years later, the daily fight is for the healing and protection of their hearts and minds as I stand before them and help them wield strength and faith against the frequent attacks of PTSD.

This verse continues to remind me that God really is with me, fighting for me, fighting for us.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.  When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you."   Isaiah 43:2-3

Tears are much easier to handle when you know someone is taking care of you.  The tears and pain are hard no matter what.  God doesn’t always take them away, but He walks with me through the circumstances. He walks the children through their circumstances.

I am banking on that fact this morning.

I returned late last night from a five day trip to Nashville with Julia for a family wedding and two college visits.  While we were there, Mia and her best friend Anna Maria met up with us as they are in the middle of a two week road trip from Boston to Mississippi as a reward for their recent college graduation.   Julia and I did the college visits alone for two of the days then spent time with family for Frankie Barranco’s wedding.  This makes the second family wedding in three weeks and we have two more to go over the next two weekends…and crammed in between the first two weddings was Mia’s graduation weekend.

I sat quietly, alone, in the back of a crowded chapel for her baccalaureate service.  I looked around and saw families and couples everywhere.  I felt pride swelling in my heart as I thought of the strength that Mia found to go to college just 5 months after losing her father.  Her strength to not only go, but to also finish.  She did it.  We did it.  She was homeschooled K-12 and supported by Michael and me every step of the way…and here she was, finished.  The music played and a weight began to sink in my chest.  My eyes brimmed with tears – the tears of a different kind - my throat bloated with a huge lump, and so I sat motionless, absorbed in the moment.  Dear Jesus, keep holding this angel in your hand!  Call her Angel, just like her dad use to do. Give her steady, warm encouragement, just like her dad always did.  Restore her heart.  Give her supernatural rest and restoration.  You gave her such abundant grace for this! You did it! Guide her in Your way.  Keep her heart tender to You. Reward her for her faithfulness. Don’t take Your eyes off of her God…she still needs you more than ever!

Just when I thought the “firsts” were over since Michael’s death, a steady succession of waves has pounded me.  My first family wedding to attend without Michael by my side.  (I was encouraged to even stand in line with the other “single” women to catch the bouquet at my sister Julie’s wedding – which I did – and I caught it. Another first.) My first child to graduate from college without their father present.  My first official college campus visits as a single parent navigating the winding path to college for Julia without Michael’s insight and support.  Each first these past three weeks seems to hit me a little harder than the previous one.

After Frankie’s wedding ceremony, I hugged Johnny, my brother-in-law who had just given his oldest daughter away in marriage. I could not stop the hug.  This was Johnny’s first of two daughters to give away to marriage.  His “first” – and six years after Theresa’s death. His wife had died of breast cancer two years before Michael died.  As I stood there embracing him, my heart ached. I felt my insides melting.  I knew he felt my void just as I felt his on this special day.  My heart ached for him.  It ached for his girls.  It ached for me.  It ached for my kids as they begin to test their wings into young adulthood while still battling PTSD.  My heart ached for the uncertainties ahead. These were more tears of a different kind running down my cheeks.

These children seem to be slipping through my fingers like sand as they quickly approach adulthood.  Have I done all I can do?  Did I let them down?  Was I there when they needed me most?  How is their heart doing in all of this?  Can we go back in time?  Is this easier for them and harder for me? God, why has everything been so hard? When will the journey lighten up a little more?  I am just beginning to feel my heart heal from letting Michael go but now I am feeling a similar pain and void as I let my children go and watch them leave my nest…. my safe little protected nest.  God, I feel more alone again as I watch them venture ahead without me. But I want them to live, love, learn, and explore all that You have for them, Lord.  Don’t let go of us God…

This morning I said good-bye to Julia as she left our home with every available inch of her car crammed full with her belongings. My mom is her travel companion and they are driving from New York to Mississippi, a two-day trip, for Julia to work this summer and compete with her swimming again, after a three year break.  When we hugged in the kitchen, it was like my hug with Johnny – I couldn’t stop.  I didn’t want to let her go.  We both felt the ache in our hearts. Her roller coaster ride with PTSD this last year, as well as her 11 month battle against the Lyme disease that she contracted last summer, has been an emotionally exhausting, physically taxing, heart wrenching, faith stretching journey.  We held one another tightly.  She rubbed my ponytail and gently patted the back of my head.  Lord protect her!  Heal her. Hold her. Come to her.  Lead her.  Guide her way.  Keep her surrounded on every side. I am trusting you God…her heart and body are in Your hands.

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you.

Parenting - what a beautiful and heartbreaking journey.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Another Birthday

Today begins the last year of my forties.  It is my birthday.  My fifth birthday without Michael.  I cannot believe so much time has past.  Even with the passage of time, my birthday today feels somewhat vague, lonely, and contemplative.  Maybe its because my close friend Nanette spent my last two birthdays in New York with me and today there are no house guests.  Maybe its because so much has changed even since that first birthday without him.  Maybe its because the house is so quiet.  Birthdays were once an early morning of energy, family time and celebration of life over a big breakfast in the breakfast room with the kids as excited as if it were their own birthday.  Today Mia is off at college near Boston(graduating in May), Michael Anthony is still asleep, and Julia is quietly and happily buzzing around.  She first brought me coffee in bed (along with a beautiful endearing letter she had written), then warm waffles, then a gift. I sit in my quiet bedroom looking out my sliding glass doors and spot a large doe staring at me.  She slowly turns and walks across our property through the melting snow.

Yes, this birthday is different.  Each birthday is more and more different.  But that is life.  We grow, we change, life changes, kids leave the nest, and the more and more we move forward, the more we also leave behind.  I am thankful that the more I move forward, the more darkness and pain is left behind.  I am thankful to draw nearer to God with each day that passes.  I am thankful for the friends that God has placed in my life along the journey each day - at the exact time and place that I need them.

I choose to be happy today.  I love my life in spite of the trials.  I love my God in spite of the trials.  I love my life, my children, and my God more because of the trials.  As John Eldredge says, and I have quoted before, "A healed heart is more glorious than a heart that has never been wounded at all."  Today is and will be glorious.  My heart feels glorious....Happy Birthday to me.

My blog post on my birthday just 4 weeks after Michael died.