Skip to content

A Really Joyful Update (June 2016):

A little over one year ago, I received what I can only describe was a gracious gift, a miracle.  In December of 2014, I survived a Subarachnoid Cerebral Hemorrhage (ruptured brain aneurysm).  Not only did I survive, but the incident was classified as a non-traumatic stroke which, as I understand, means that it produced no negative ongoing medical or physical deficits. From what I’ve been told, the survival for this type of episode is very low and with a positive outcome like this is statistically quite rare.

After just three weeks in ICU (following an emergency brain surgery on Dec. 4, 2014) I was discharged directly to home and was able to fully participate in our son’s wedding just 25 days following the episode.  No step-down unit and no rehab was indicated.  And after about five additional weeks of working from home, I was cleared to drive and returned to work full-time. In fact, over the past 17 months, I’ve not so much as taken a Tylenol for a headache.

UPDATE June 2016: Health wise, this past year and a half has been relatively uneventful – with the exception of a non-emergency 2nd surgery last June 2015 (that was needed to do additional repair) and a few followup brain-scans necessary to monitor healing and progress.

This week my neurologist said confidently that from here out, he expects to only perform annual scans for the purpose of “monitoring for long-term developments”.  He went on to say that I do not need to consider this aneurysm when making day-to-day decisions regarding activities of any kind, and that “I can go on and live my life normally”.

He went on to say that I do not need to consider this aneurysm when making day-to-day decisions regarding activities of any kind, and that “I can go on and live my life normally”.

Needless to say, my wife and I are pleased beyond words and thanking God for this undeserved gift of life, mercy, and grace each day.  I wake each morning excited about whatever future that I have left, and expectantly listening for God’s voice regarding my purpose and whatever comes next on this journey.  It’s all good.

Thanks to everyone who has encouraged and prayed for us during this unsettling time.  Thanks for your love and concern, your kind words and listening ears.  My prayer today is that sharing our story somehow brings hope or encouragement to whatever difficulties or heartache you may be experiencing. We pray that whatever you may be struggling with that you discover, or draw closer to, the God that created you in His image and loves you beyond words.



Well that wasn’t quite what we expected to hear (May 2015)

May 2015: Here’s what things looked like five months post surgery.  Things seem well, feeling great.  People we talk to are still surprised that I’m alive and I’ve gotten quite used to getting up, driving, working full-time, and generally feeling great for the past four months (almost as if nothing happened).

That Friday I had what was a standard followup to the coiling procedure that was done to block-off future blood flow to the aneurysm that so suddenly threatened my life back in December of 2014.

Sure we braced ourselves a little for the possibility of some unexpected news, but overall I became quite confident that all was well and the hardest part was far behind us – and this exam was just a routine activity.

I laid in the recovery room waiting for the Dr. to stop by before sending me home.  When he arrived I asked (over-confidently) “well, was it a success?”

Seriously He replied. “Well, that depends on how you define success.  If by success you mean we got thru the procedure, then yes. ”  He then went on to report that unfortunately the surgery back in December was not totally successful and that the aneurysm appears to be reforming.  What this means is that we need to do the surgery again in a few weeks.  So in June 2015 there was another surgery which included additional coiling and the addition of a new, somewhat experimental, mesh stent to help bypass the aneurysm in my brain.

Six months later, In December 2015, a follow-up angiogram procedure indicated that all was stable and healing and that additional surgery was not indicated. So far so good!  They’ll follow-up again in June of 2016 and re-assess.

Video interviews re: suffering

My wife Marge and I recently had the opportunity to sit and share with Pastor Bill Schroeder at The Chapel in Sandusky, Ohio about a recent crisis and what we’re learning as it continues to unfold.  On December 3 (2014) I experienced a sub arachnoid hemorrhage (brain aneurism) that almost took my life. Below are three short videos that became part of a 3-week message series called Beyond Me/ Lifted by God.

Interview Part 1 from “Questions in Suffering”

“… and that’s what prayer looked like for those first hours and days. It was more like God are you there?”  -marge

Lifted By God – Gary and Marge interview part 1 “Questions in Suffering” RT = 09:30 from The Chapel on Vimeo.


Interview Part 2 from “Purpose in Suffering”

 “… and that’s the thing, if someone’s going to have the final word in my life I’m glad it’s God …because that’s a heart that I can trust” -marge

Lifted By God – Gary and Marge interview part 2 – “Purpose in Suffering” RT = 08:20 from The Chapel on Vimeo.


Interview Part 3 from “Comfort in Suffering”

“… it’ was people coming along side and loving”  -marge

Lifted By God – Gary and Marge interview part 3 “Comfort in Suffering” RT= 07:40 from The Chapel on Vimeo.

I was told I dodged a bullet

A couple of years ago, when I first set up this blog and thought about writing, I decided to include a category called “life”. I never quite knew why, other than I thought I might want to journal or have a place to ponder and process bigger picture thoughts and ideas.  Since then I never felt I had much notable to contribute – until now:

On December 17, 2014 (after 14 consecutive days in the ICU at the University of Toledo Medical Hospital) the head of neurology (the attending doctor of the interdisciplinary medical team overseeing my treatment) stood in my room alongside his team and gave this short, simple, matter-of-fact report: “Mr. Yonek, you dodged a bullet”.  They kept me for a few more days of evaluation for OT, physical therapy, and to monitor my blood pressure etc.  Then on Friday the 19th they discharged me straight to home, not seeing any need for additional therapy or rehab.  What an indescribable blessing!  Although weak and unsteady from lying still for two weeks, and still substantially medicated, I was able to get up and walk a few steps with the assistance of a walker.  After about three days at home I was able to walk unassisted and was even began navigating the stairs, albeit very slowly and carefully.  I was able to be home for Christmas Eve with my wife and family close by and, most of all, I was well enough to attend my son’s wedding on Dec 28th.  My recovery to this point seems significantly ahead of schedule, but I’m being careful to rest and not to push it.  I’m still on several medications, mostly for pain management for ongoing headaches from the surgery. Headaches, which I’m told, will last another 4-5 weeks but are quite normal.

…stood in my room with his team and gave this short simple matter-of-fact report: “Mr. Yonek, you dodged a bullet”

The whole episode happened on December 3rd.  I was having lunch with a co-worker at a local fast-food place. Suddenly, a few sentences in to our conversation, I felt oddly dizzy and my voice sounded to me as if I was talking inside a large tin can.  Despite several attempts, I just couldn’t complete my thought or finish my sentence. I then remember saying to Charles, “I just don’t feel right, I think something is really wrong” – at which point I apparently passed out.  Some time later I could see and hear Charles telling me to “hang in there, the squad is on the way”.  Apparently he had assisted me to the floor avoiding any fall or additional physical trauma, called 911, contacted my wife, and contacted our office to request prayer from our staff and to get the initial word out to close friends. He then stayed by my side until help arrived. And for this I’m forever grateful.

One of the many blessings during this entire ordeal was that, aside of the 5-10 minutes I was unconscious and the time I was in surgery, I had unusual clarity and understanding of what was going on for someone in my circumstances.  In fact, that was what I think was most encouraging to the medical professionals – beginning with the rescue squad.  When they arrived at the scene I was beginning to answer basic questions with regards to time and place, I knew who I was and I was beginning to remember pertinent information such as address, phone numbers etc.  They were all very calm and clear, repeatedly telling me that “I was in the middle of something very serious” and “things were going to happen very quickly”, wanting to make sure I understood as much as possible.  As time went on I was encouraged, almost daily, at reports I was getting with regards to my coordination, reflexes, and motor movements.  It was hopeful.

So What Happened? I had experienced a Sub-Arachnoid Hemorrhage

I’ve always been relatively healthy.  I have no history of high blood pressure. There is no history of stroke in my family that I’m aware of.  There was no advanced notice, no symptoms – it just happened. The short answer: A 1/2″, heart-shaped aneurysm on an artery that supplies blood to my brain, burst in the back of my head, near the base of my skull, and started to fill the lining around my brain with blood.  I was told that everything that could have gone right, did.  All the things that could have gone terribly wrong, just didn’t.  I learned that less than 10% of those who experience this type of brain hemorrhage survive long enough to even get treatment. Of those, less than 10% walk away without some type of  negative, long term medical deficiency. A friend of mine learned thru Google that few in my age group ever experience this type of episode (something like <1% in 135000 men).  We don’t know why this happened to me. Why it happened when it did or where it did.  God knows.  All I know is if it had occurred 20 minutes later I might have been driving my friend back to the office.  The next day, I might have been assisting our team on a ladder or hydraulic lift installing projectors or preparing the stage for Christmas Eve rehearsals.  Even that morning I could have been on the stairs at home or out in the neighborhood walking the dog. The outcome could have been far more tragic for me and others.  I do believe God protected people that day.

20141213_103545 20141213_103338

Doctors say that the large aneurysm may have been there my entire life.  I could have been born with it.  I’m told that it could have a genetic link or it could have been a total anomaly.  Amazingly, I survived the first night in ICU and it was permanently sealed the next morning by a team of neurologists using one of two available procedures.  In my case the surgeons threaded a line thru an artery up to my brain and wrapped a “coil” of about 6″ of thin “wire” around the aneurism to permanently close it off and keep it from being a problem again..

I’m still not quite sure how to process all of this. I still have several weeks of recovery at home ahead of me.   The fact that I’m here is indeed a miracle.  There is no doubt that the first responders, hospital medical personnel, the life-flight team, and the subsequent surgical specialists brought an amazing amount of skill and urgency to the process of keeping me alive and contributing to my survival, for the most part, unharmed.  But the fact that the hemorrhage apparently clotted and stopped by itself as the squad arrived is what probably saved my life and bought the time for all the other medical disciplines to intervene, diagnose, and treat.

So I’m kind of left with “why did this happen?” What’s God’s plan for all this? I guess I have the rest of my life to figure that out.  Basically, I have all the time there is.

I’m very thankful to be alive. I enjoy life.  I love life.  I love my wife, my kids, and their spouses more than anything else in this world. I love my friends and those I get to serve in ministry with.  But I can honestly say that throughout this entire ordeal I was at peace.  Confused a little, but never anxious or scared about death or the uncertainty of my future.  I was indescribably calm and even curious.  I recall praying in the helicopter as I was being transferred to the stroke center in Toledo and simply saying “Jesus, I really don’t know what’s going on here, but I know you do.  And I’m good with that. I don’t really want to die now. I don’t know even what to pray for, but I trust your will, and to take care of me however you wish and that you will be there to take care of my family regardless of my personal outcome.”

The reality was that this situation was so out of my hands. This wasn’t a “if I just try harder I can beat this” kind of scenario.  I know having a positive attitude is great for one’s health, but the fact is no amount of sheer will or positive thinking or good vibes was going to alter the outcome of something like this – at that moment.  Sure I can exercise and maybe watch what I eat, but I really don’t get to decide the outcomes of any of these types of life issues.

I believe there is a God.  The God of the Bible.  I believe Jesus is God and is alive and present in spirit in a very real way.  I also understand that I’m not God.  I believe God heard the many prayers of friends and family even before they were prayed or before anyone even knew what to pray for.  Regardless of the outcome, God was there.  He wasn’t surprised or taken off guard by anything.  He was with me and, somehow in ways I can’t put into words, He let me know that He was with me.  It was never a weird “I’m hearing voices in my head” kind of thing.  But more a calming presence and reassurance that He was there and He was every bit concerned about the same things that I was.  I just had to trust Him. (Jeremiah 29:11)

I believe with all my being that I’m saved by faith in Christ and God is much more than just some intellectual debate over theology or the origin of the world.  And I thank God for every next breath I get to take today and tomorrow and until He decides my time here is complete. Each next day is a gift. This is reality.

The Rule of Good/ Fast/ Price

I can’t even remember where I heard of this let alone who said it first.  I’m sure you’ve probably heard some variation over the years. But it never ceases to impress me how accurate and consistent the rule of Good/ Fast/ Price really is.  My variation looks like this. It basically says that the three characteristics effect each other.  Whether we’re talking about building a house, or a process, or designing complex systems like sound, video, hvac, or computer networks, this rule inevitably applies. The Rule of Good vs. Fast vs. Cheap Always Remember: You can pick any two but it’s almost impossible to have all three. Good/ Fast/ Cheap

    1. You can have your project/product fast and cheap… but it won’t be good. (always at the expense of good quality)
    2. You can have it cheap and good… but it won’t be completed or able to operate fast. (always at the expense of high performance or fast construction)
    3. You can have it good and fast… but it won’t be cheap. (always at the expense of best price)

For me the biggest of these it time.  The failure to plan and allow adequate time for design, spec’ing, and shopping kills any chance of quality and/or performance and leads to increased costs. Often times as tech directors we’re faced with arbitrary deadlines, budget, and undefined expectations that are not ground in reality and which we have no real control over.   Failure to properly assess expectations, and design/ shop for the best and cost effective options for our application will result in 1 of two outcomes.  We either pay way too much to have something conveniently overnighted and/or we make hasty purchases with our eye on the cost an acquire gear that is not totally compatible, can’t possibly perform well, or won’t last long. (  Failing to plan and allow time is a loose/loose when it comes to significant purchases.

Develop common mission statements…

Most churches and structured organizations have a mission statement that defines how we implement our values.  But do your worship and/or technical arts teams? Since a big part of what we do in tech involves the worship team we decided a little over a year ago to develop and common mission statement.  It was a bit of a challenge as often the needs and tasks of the tech team can often be quite different than those of the musicians on the platform.  But we serve a common purpose. Our end game is the same.  So after several weeks of discussion and prayer we came up with this universal statement that I thinks describes nicely the heart and attitude that we value as necessary to carry out the overall mission of our church.

“The Chapel Worship Team: consists of individuals called to bring people one step closer to God, to each other, and to freedom in Christ by leading in worship, serving faithfully and humbly with our gifts, and by reflecting the character (love/grace) of Jesus Christ in our lives at all times.” -2013 Chapel Worship and Technical Arts

Developing the statement was a great exercise and we learned a lot about each other as a staff.  And we can clearly share it with everyone on our teams. Does your worship team have a overriding mission or values statement that you share between your worship and tech volunteers and staff?

Sometimes nothing says “I don’t care” quite like, well, …

It occurred to me a few years back that there are several ways we can communicate that we don’t care – usually unintentionally.

It’s quite easy actually. One way is by withholding or neglecting routine feedback (positive or negative).  Maybe it’s with dedicated people on our volunteer teams who show up every time they’re scheduled and go thru their duties joyfully and competently.  Do we offer meaningful thanks and praise?  What if they are not so confident or experienced?  Do we offer correction, encouragement, guidance, or even criticism?  Although being critical is not generally a healthy thing, I think it’s far worse to be silent and offer nothing. Have you ever been in a position where you weren’t sure where you stood?  If you were doing a good job or bad job?  I think often times people in the role of director can get busy and as long as things are getting by, they neglect to express anything.  Few things say “I don’t care” like flat-out ignoring someone. It’s the same with an employee/employer relationship. It may not be your intent, but it can feel horrible and unsettling to the person struggling with uncertainty.  The absence of praise or constructive feedback is like saying “what you do doesn’t really matter” or “I can’t be bothered with you”. And that’s not the heart of most tech directors or ministry leaders I know. Even worse is the perception can contradict the “people matter” attitude that most say is important. It can be disrespectful and even be perceived as a disregard of an individual’s personhood.

I think often times people in the role of director can get busy and as long as things are getting by, they neglect to express anything.

Make your encouragements and thank-you mean something.  Follow them with a specific example whenever possible.  It’s great to say thank you (and we should say it often).  But If you’re like me it can be easy to get into a rut of just saying “hey thanks” or “good job” while passing in the hall or on the way out the door.  I find that I can blurt it out without thinking why.   The problem with that is it can sometimes be received as fake, patronizing, or insincere.  Sometimes I have to consciously stop what I’m doing for the moment, make eye-contact and then say something like “Thank you …for nailing that cue in the 3rd song, I really appreciate your attention to details” or “I really appreciate …what you do on our  team, including your heart for prayer and the way you care for others” or “Thanks …for checking the planningcenter and coming in prepared, it’s a joy to serve with you.”  I think it’s one thing to hand out a more generic thank you when addressing a group, but if it’s an individual, take a minute to make it personal – it requires an investment of time, make it individual whenever possible.

Another way of unintentionally expressing that we don’t care is by actually saying “I don’t care”.  Have you ever uttered this?  Not intentionally I’m sure, but I recall times when I’ve used those exact words to communicate something totally different.  Maybe you thought you were trying to empower a volunteer to make a decision, have some creative input, or take ownership.  The exchange might go something like this:

Volunteer: “Would you like me to move house lights down at this moment or that moment?”

Tech Director: “I don’t care, you pick”

What the ministry leader probably meant to say was “both ways work, I trust your judgment, why don’t you decide, we’ll run with it and see how it goes?”  But what the volunteer might have only heard was “I don’t care … blah blah, blah blah blah’ blah blah”.   (Which can come off sounding an awful lot like “it doesn’t matter to me, I’m concerned with way more  important things than your stuff”).

I had a worship leader tell me many years ago that they had a vocalist once ask if they should take the high harmony or low harmony. The worship leader casually and innocently said “I don’t care, you decide”. Some days later the vocalist expressed that they felt like what they did didn’t matter, nobody cared, it obviously wasn’t that important. Now that wasn’t the heart or the intent of the leader during the rehearsal at all, but the perception of the volunteer was shocking.

Sometimes I think it’s easy to blurt out things like ” I don’t care, you decide” when we’re talking about details that might seem routine to us or we have years of experience with or we’re in a staff meeting with people we work closely with everyday.  But the fact is we really do care (or should) and so do our volunteers.

Sometimes nothing says I don’t care like actually saying “I don’t care”.  As we move into the hustle and urgency of Good Friday and Easter production, let’s take a second to find the best words. Words matter …. relationships matter.