Friday, September 22, 2006

Faith's Lodge

In a sun-splashed room of a south Minneapolis home, young voices help warm the walls with breathtaking joy. Five-year-old Emmy and three-year-old Ally organize their dolls for a ball. Their mom, Susan Lacek, joins in, as their dad, Mark Lacek, takes in the moment.

One girl enthusiastically tells Susan, "You'll see if you get a card to the ball."

Susan responds, "Oh if we get invited to the ball!" "Yea, you are going to get a card," Emmy replies.

In this moment, that demands any parent to take a mental snapshot, Emmy declares, "Everybody gets two girls, and three dresses."

And the reality here is, there is a third dress for a third daughter who lives in everyone's heart -- but not heir earthly home.

"Her name is Faith," Emmy says. And her home according to three-year-old Ally is, "Umm, in heaven."

In a neighboring room, Mark and Susan reflect on another moment six years ago. "It was a pain that was so sharp and so deep," recalls Mark.

For months the couple had been anticipating the arrival of their firstborn daughter, Faith Ann Lacek. But on the way to a baby shower in June of 2000, the couple took a detour for peace of mind that would prove anything but peaceful.

Susan remembers, "We decided to just go into the hospital for, sort of an ease our conscience check, because we weren't feeling a lot of movement." It was then that the couple learned that just weeks before their due date that their baby had died.

Faith was stillborn a day later.

Susan says, "You're supposed to be looking forward to this great moment and instead you get the news, and your life has just changed in an instant."

Even more painful was the fact that Susan and her sisters were all pregnant at the same time.

Looking back Susan says, "I think that's when everybody in our family truly came to realize that having a healthy baby is just truly a miracle."

The laughter that bounces off the walls of their home is a reminder of the two miracles that arrived in the six years since Faith's death. The girls helped restore joy and hope, while the couple keeps Faith in their hearts.

Upstairs in the nursery, a special cabinet holds reminders of their first angel and first successful Faith-driven mission, which goes back to a keepsake birth certificate.

Susan asks, "How can you receive a death certificate, when you never received a birth certificate?" The Lacek's helped make sure families with stillborn children could get an actual birth certificate by helping pass a new Minnesota law entitling those families to certificates.

"We gave birth to them, just like any other child. The only difference was, we didn't get the reward at the end," explains Susan.

In Wisconsin's north woods near Siren, Faith has another birth certificate of sorts. Here on a country road, a sign in a driveway reads "Faith's Lodge - A Place Where Hope Grows."

Late in the summer of 2006, gigantic machinery began reshaping the earth and the future. As Mark Lacek watches the on-going work he says, "The dream is starting to come true."

This family that has borne so much pain in the loss of Faith, now plans to help others overcome similar tragedies in life. In the coming months, Faith's Lodge will be born. It's a multi-million dollar, eight family facility on 80 acres and it's going to be a place where those with critically ill children or those who've lost a child can come to heal.

Mark Lacek walks a trail on the property and as he comes upon an old bridge, he calls
it, "the bridge of hope." It is the Lacek's hope that through Faith's Lodge, others who suffer the pain of a stillbirth won't have to walk a path similar to theirs.

Mark recalls, "At the time we lost Faith, there really was no organized or central place where you could go to kind of figure out how to deal with something that you never expected."

At their nearby lake home, Susan Lacek still finds comfort in nature, while tending to Faith's garden. She says, "I kind of look at it as the time that I didn't get to spend with Faith."

And it is healing the couple found in another north woods spot after Faith died, that spawned Faith's Lodge. "It really hits home for me, when my mom or a close friend will say to me, Susan I think she'd be really proud of you. And that's when I realize exactly how much we've accomplished," says Susan.

Mark adds, "Because of (Faith), a lot of other people will have a much better experience either with a medical crisis or a loss."

While the Lacek's raise construction money, operational costs ranging from administration to counseling, will be covered by Ronald McDonald House Charities, Upper Midwest. Executive Director Meg Katzman says, "It really struck us as a Ronald McDonald house in the woods." She adds, "I just think it's a wonderful thing. There're really very few places in the world that are doing something like this."

For the Lacek's the lofty quest, all comes back to loss. Not only theirs, but others
as well.

The reality of that loss becomes clear during a family visit to an area called Babyland in a Minneapolis cemetery where Faith is buried. Susan notes, "That's one of the things that I never get over, when we come out here is you know you see a new stone, or you see a new grave and you think, oh my gosh, it just happened to somebody else."

The family has a ritual where they release a balloon to Faith. And this summer day, they carry on that tradition. One of the girls says, "I want to do the balloon." Suddenly, unexpectedly, the balloon slips skyward. Dad and the daughters say, "Whoopsie, whoopsie."

In such a serious moment, the two miracles offer relief that warms the heart. And in Faith's name, the Laceks intend to warm many broken hearts. As Mark puts it, "This is our attempt to make the sun shine on a very dark period."

By Greg Vandegrift, KARE 11 News

Faith's Lodge

Courtesy KARE 11 TV

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