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Nov. 30, 2022

Episode 55: Pursuing Life After Grief with Lisa Michelle Zega


Lisa Michelle Zega is a Life Coach for spiritual people experiencing loss that mere religion can’t hold. She guides them to process grief through LOVE and move from the emptiness of rigid certainty to the vibrancy of a life flourishing in hope and mystery. She helps them metabolize grief to assimilate its nutrients, learning, and wisdom and release the waste, so they can begin again with joy, confidence, hope, and love for the sake of the world.

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Transcript

🎶 Podcast Intro: Welcome to the pursuing uncomfortable podcast, where we give you the encouragement you need to lean into the uncomfortable stuff life puts in front of you, so you can love your life. If you are ready to overcome all the yuck that keeps you up at night, you're in the right place. I am your host, Melissa Ebken let's get going. 🎶

🎶 Episode Intro: Hi friend. Welcome back to the podcast. Thank you so much for listening today. I'm going to introduce you to a person who is just a bright spot in this life. Her name is Lisa Michelle Zega. She is a life coach for spiritual people experiencing loss that mere religion can't hold. If you've experienced grief that has challenged your faith, then you're in the right place. I can't wait to introduce you to Lisa and I know you're going to be touched and inspired by her message today. 🎶

Episode:

Melissa Ebken  0:00  
Lisa, welcome to The Pursuing Uncomfortable podcast all the way from Rainy California today. 

Lisa Zega  0:09  
Yes, yes. Thank you for having me. I'm super excited to be here and hanging out with you, Melissa.

Melissa Ebken  0:16  
We, friends who are listening, you have to know that when Lisa and I first talked, we talked I mean, we talked. I already feel like she's one of my new best friends. We're gonna be talking about holiday plans after this is over. But for now. Lisa, would you like to introduce yourself to these great folks that are tuning in today?

Lisa Zega  0:39  
Yeah. So my name is Lisa Michelle Zega, you already mentioned, I live in California. I am a life coach. I really focus on grief. And especially people experiencing grief in the church in their faith with God that often goes unrecognized, unwitnessed, unheard. And that equals unhealed. And we just can't have that. So, I work in that space.

Melissa Ebken  1:12  
Well, I'm really glad you do work in that space. I know I'm going to learn a lot today also, and I'm going to use it in ministry and with my friends and in my own life. So let's jump in with both. 

Lisa Zega  1:24  
All right. 

Melissa Ebken  1:26  
So where did this journey begin for you, Lisa?

Lisa Zega  1:32  
That is a great question. And all of a sudden, my mind went to all kinds of places right? Where it became super apparent to me was when I ended a marriage of 23 years. My entire identity was disrupted. I didn't know how to relate my relate to myself because so I had been this pastor's wife, homeschooling mom, Christian, mentor, leader, teacher. And now I was getting a divorce. My boys didn't talk to me. Like I didn't know how to or if I wasn't wife, mother Christian churchgoer, then who was I?

Melissa Ebken  2:30  
Yeah, that is a lot.

Lisa Zega  2:34  
That, that that I would say, and thankfully, thankfully, before that occurred, I had entered into a counseling relationship seven years prior, at around 38-39. And I would say that was my introduction to becoming a grown up. It was the first time I recognize that I was oriented to my life as a victim. And so, so there was that, and by the time this happened, I had more tools in my toolbox than had it just occurred prior. But that was a start.

Melissa Ebken  3:22  
That's a huge start. That's an oath, being married for 23 years, you feel like that there's a point where you're just gonna be married, you know, when you hit a certain year, or you hit a certain time that the marriage took for lack of a better way to describe it. And after you've been married for a long time, which 23 years can be a long time, to have that rug pulled out that is crushing in so many ways. Plus, being a pastor's wife has its own set of difficulties and challenges and identity crises as well. So I can't imagine what all you were going through just with that,

Lisa Zega  4:10  
And I wasn't, I do want to clarify Not that it matters, but I wasn't the traditional pastor's wife like what somebody might bring to mind. You know, we had done a church plant, the church plant did not end up surviving. I related to myself, as you know, I went to seminary with him. We were very theologically oriented. Like I said, I was, you know, teacher extraordinaire, lots and lots of Bible knowledge, but I wasn't the one like in the south, they call her the First Lady. Like, you wouldn't have thought of me that way. Because by the time this all occurred, we were attending a church as churchgoers and yet, we had these gifts these you know, this way I related to who I am and what made me what made me important. Even important in the kingdom of God, so yeah.

Melissa Ebken  5:13  
So when you lost your marriage, you mentioned that you lost your kids. And that's a whole separate layer of grief we'll get into in a moment. But you also probably lost your church is that fair to say?

Lisa Zega  5:26  
Yes, yeah, everything. I really didn't know. Like, I had not been single, I had not attended. And when this first occurred, I sought to keep going to church. And my was-bend. Have you ever heard that word? I just dig it. That's really great, right? And yet, I don't want to minimize, you know, the beauty of marriage. Regardless, my was-bend, and my children went to the same church. And they sat on the opposite side of the sanctuary, and I could see them, and they were very, my kids at the time were 15, 17 and 18. We've always been a demonstrative family in terms of affectionate and here I was being able to see them being, like, I have not thought about that, specifically, anyway. And, you know, he full and and I don't blame individuals. It's not like it's a collective struggle we have, we generally don't know how to be with us suffering. And in church, that might even being more so than in society at large, because how the hell are we supposed to be with, you know, the people that are blessed, and highly favored and happy, clappy and you know, got to represent God and defend his, you know, reputation? So I felt so alone in my grief. And people simply didn't ask. And I showed up there and I went through services for, I don't know, maybe I went for three services, maybe I went to four. Shoot, maybe I went to eight, and then I just left.

Lisa Zega  5:43  
What happened during to your faith during this time?

Lisa Zega  7:33  
It grew.

Melissa Ebken  7:36  
And that's surprising. A lot of people experience a loss of faith or an absence of faith. I want to hear more about how your faith grew.

Lisa Zega  7:44  
Well, I will say it didn't grow in a way that was traditional, nor was it comfortable for me. There's a passage in scripture that says, You shall not put the Lord your God to the test. Yeah. And I feel like that's exactly what I did. I was probably more honest with God than I've ever been. And I remember, I think saying this out loud. Certainly, I said it within and the sentiment many times. If unconditional love is like a thing, then you're going to need to prove that. And I said all my expletives to God. And I was not worried about reading my Bible, having a quiet time, figuring. And mysteriously, you know, there's another passage that says, it's your kindness, that leads me to change. God is tender, loving, kind.

Melissa Ebken  9:03  
Thank you for, for sharing your authenticity with us. And I think that that shows exactly what God is seeking from us to be exactly who we are in the moment when we can authentically be just who we are without the veneer of success without the veneer of our education, or our hopes or our victories. When we are just so completely and utterly honest with whatever language that might entail, and lay ourselves bare before God that's when there's a real possibility for something profound to happen. That's holy ground where bushes burn, and where signs appear. And it sounds like that was the type of exception perience that you had.

Lisa Zega  10:03  
Yeah. And in God's goodness. When I moved out, I moved out with the clothes on my back, I was able to be cut off from the bank account like, by all, well, if it were not for the relational resource that I have in abundance, I genuinely would have become homeless, I would have been in a homeless situation. Now, in God's goodness, guess who I began working with? Who? Those in homeless situations. 

Melissa Ebken  10:43  
Oh, that was beautiful.

Lisa Zega  10:46  
And I got to be, I was coming I, from a place of pain. I was walking with people, there was no top down in my interaction. Through that process, I learned so much about how to be with people I was trained in how to be with people. But this was a whole new thing. I didn't I didn't mention I was a life coach when my marriage imploded. And I disqualified myself. And then God shepherded me into homeless services. And I got to witness more miracles. But I knew what it was like to be depleted in resource, right, like poverty is so many different types of resource, not just financial. And I just got to experience like, literal magic. And it was a yeah, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful season of life.

Melissa Ebken  11:55  
Is that where the healing began?

Lisa Zega  11:58  
Yes, and, yeah, my, the CEO of the organization I worked with, right, like we've all been, I'm imagining, many of us have been in positions of power, where we've worked with someone who didn't have the authority, or the opposite. We've been the person that, you know, working with someone who has outwardly that the resource, right? He treated me as an equal. And in that process, of feeling so much like a failure, like I tend to orient my own natural come from is an orientation toward success or failure. Right, a preoccupation with that, if you're familiar with the Enneagram, I am a three. 

Melissa Ebken  12:54  
All right then, 

Lisa Zega  12:55  
A transmitting three extraordinaire. So this failing at the most essential area of my life was devastating. Being treated with such utter respect in that place, was so healing and and he believed in me, he saw something and guess what I ended up getting to do. So I come from life coaching at disqualified myself, of course, I'm interested in all things human development. So now he allows me to go get trained in all these ways of how to be with people. This is forming my feeling I'm getting to serve that's informing my healing. And, and God, unbeknownst to me, is preparing me for the future that was already there, but I had not stepped into so yeah, lots of details.

Melissa Ebken  13:54  
That's an amazing, amazing journey. And so many times, it's not a direct path from where we are to the top of the mountain. There are this is what Hollywood does best is showing the pits of despair, if you will, to borrow a line from the Princess Bride,

Lisa Zega  14:16  
The Princess Bride. 

Melissa Ebken  14:18  
Sometimes we have to journey through that dark and forbidden forest and face our biggest fears and face the monsters and then that we see that there is a path for us. And because we traveled through these difficult and uncomfortable and challenging spaces that we're now available and able to be present to new opportunities that we never even saw coming. And that's a beautiful path.

Lisa Zega  14:49  
That's so, right before so, I told you I was trained in several modalities. I got to do a lot of work in mental health. And I did it through a peer support lens like somebody that has lived experience, right. And now you're going to get to mentor people with the same experience or different, but you know, like, similar. So I had just finished this training all around. Now I'm trying to think of what it was, and essentially a peer support training and mental health. The training finished on a Friday. Now fast forward, I was engaged to be married. This is Easter weekend, and he dies on a Monday. I'm going Oh, my goodness. So one thing and like the mental health sphere, when you're thinking about self advocacy, and and garnering support for yourself is nothing about us without us, right? Like I don't need you solving my problems in a corner without including the one who's having the experience. And there was so many other things. But I remember, I sent out a text to hundreds of people. When I found out that he died, like in my state of shock, my fiance died, he left me. It was so close to April Fool's, that was the year that Easter fell on an on April Fool's, April 1, then some people thought it was a joke. What it also did was have me wake up to a room of 8, 10, 15 women I don't even know, like I was surrounded with support. And at some point that day, I heard them whispering. And they right, like, they are concerned about their devastated friend. And I yell from the other room, Melissa. And again, God going before me and, and giving me preparation, and to grieve, to get the support I needed. And to help me recognize grief. All of us, all of us experience it. Of course, we all experience the death of loved ones. Grief is just the normal response to loss. Yes it is. So much of our grief goes on identified because there's like no category for it. We don't generally put all loss experienced by humankind in the grief bucket, right? So.

Melissa Ebken  17:55  
And a lot of times we mistake it for anger or for something else. It's really grief.

Lisa Zega  18:06  
Because we tend to learn to cope based on what's modeled for us, or some sort of reaction against what's modeled for us, neither of which are connecting us with who we are, our essence our inner man, you know, as the scripture would say, or, yeah.

Melissa Ebken  18:25  
Well, and I think a lot of times we take the path of least resistance, okay, anger, yeah, grief is scary, I can do anger but grief. I don't want to go there. I don't want to face that. That is right. I might get lost in that.

Lisa Zega  18:40  
And that's not like a moral thing, either. That's not like, we don't have to think about that. Our brain is like wired for survival. It's a magical machine. Neither one of us would be here were we not, you know, had we not survived to get here. And, unfortunately, and I can speak this is my truth. Like, I used personal development against myself. In many ways I weaponized it. Like I was supposed to have known I was supposed to have done better. I think neuroscience is one of the greatest gifts for me just to understand oh wait, like, I'm here to survive. And then there's also a path to thrive. Right, that allows me to interrupt that but I don't want to poo poo on survival? Well, like hello, we are here because we survived.

Melissa Ebken  19:41  
That's a big part of it. So Lisa, to someone who is in the in the vise grip of grief right now, who is losing their faith? What would you say to that person?

Lisa Zega  20:01  
It's okay to not be okay. You know, some of the things that keep us from healing are the pressure to act better than we are. And we all experience this, we are tribal beings, because there's not a lot of space for our grief in normal culture. And within the church. At some point, we give the people what the people want. They want to see Melissa, let's get back to your good old energetic self, we miss your laugh, we this, we that. And so it, it creates a greater sense of isolation, right? So recognizing we've got lots and lots of misinformation in society, there's nothing wrong with you. What's wrong is our messaging around grief, we are not meant to do this alone. We are not protecting people, when we pretend that we're okay. And in fact, when we allow ourselves to feel what we're feeling within ourselves and within the presence of others, like that's what's normal. What's not normal is being told to get better to we, we get better without the force. Without the pressure without the this is what you're supposed to look like, This is who I need you to be. But if we find ourselves pretending for others, we haven't done anything wrong. We've done what we've been taught to do. So I would say, allow it. Pick someone that you can trust to talk to give them guidelines. Like people need to know that you're okay. Like I don't like how this was coming out, Melissa, it's the idea of I'm going to talk and allow myself to be exactly how I am. What I want is you to listen, not interrupt or try to fix. I'm not looking for advice, people's natural responses to try to give advice and make you okay, you're already okay, you're having a normal experience.

Melissa Ebken  22:25  
Grief is the appropriate response to loss.

Lisa Zega  22:31  
Exactly. It's the appropriate it is the normal and it's natural. What's not natural is the numbing and then pretending but even if you're numbing of course you are. We do what we're taught. And we're not just taught this in our family of origin, which we are, but it's a collective, it's bigger than us. Which, right, so your entire life's been disrupted. And that's why I'm saying it is okay to not feel okay. And you do not need to pretend.

Melissa Ebken  23:13  
You know, an image that came to mind, as you were speaking about this was, do you remember those finger puzzles, you get it little carnivals, and little things that you have your fingers in them and then you can't pull them out. The only way to get your fingers back out is to just relax and succumb to it. Push them together. And then it will give and you can remove it. You can

Lisa Zega  23:40  
It's counter intuitive. We see it throughout nature throughout like yes, leaning I remember. I met a woman who did the wild river rafting. And you know how stories stick with us. And I don't remember the levels but she did the highest level. And she said the natural response when you're coming up to a boulder through you know being being pushed through this rapid is to move away. And the safest thing to do is to lean in you literally end up hugging it and you make your way through and and that all those things. So by the time Chip died I knew to lean in. I knew that my only paths forward was to allow the grief. Yeah. And one other thing though, and my that same CEO who I love his name is Damian O'Farrell. I think I can say his name just because I want to celebrate him. He allowed me to write a letter to the entire organization because I told him, they don't know how to be with me. And unless I tell them it It is so awkward here, I can't come into the office. So I wrote a letter with an appeal, that I am human, I am suffering, I'm still allowed to laugh, and still allowed to tell jokes, I don't need to talk about his death all the time. And I will cry. When I need to cry without worrying about whether it's appropriate, and somehow them knowing, like I basically told people, I'm going to go through a process, I don't know what it's going to look like, I'm going to allow it and I'm inviting you to allow it with me. Now, I had an entire organization of support, who was not walking around on, you know, broken glass, trying to make sure that I didn't break. So

Melissa Ebken  25:48  
That's beautiful. And it takes some strength to be able to do that. That's not something you might be able to do on in the first moments of grief. But as you're wondering,

Lisa Zega  25:59  
I was in a situation like, honestly, I wouldn't expect that of anyone. It just happened to be, like, even the idea that I had been in a two or three week long training, right up until two days before he died. It was like I was being surrounded with support, in preparation, that and and I wouldn't expect myself to be present to that somehow. Miraculously, I was. But I would never, ever, ever want someone to hold my views/story/process. Like, there's not a standard one size fits all. And that's another it's a tragedy to think so it's like our grief is as unique as our fingerprint. Ya know?

Melissa Ebken  26:53  
Absolutely. So is our journey. How big is God for you now?

Lisa Zega  27:02  
So big and look, I want to say I'm so small. And it's like manna, this is the thing I've I and I'm saying this for all the people like me who just want to arrive at a place where I've got this thing down. And now I don't need God in the same way. It's like, no, now, every day, at some point, when I slow down to myself, and to my fears, and my anxiety and all the things that still happen in this human body. I come again to see the bigness of God. And sometimes I am I just need to laugh at sometimes how small the things are. That will have me shrink God down to the size of you know, I don't know itsy whitsy teeny weeny. And then. And then I sit with it. And then God grows again. And I'm like, Oh, I'm not going to outgrow this whole human experience am I? I get to be with it.

Melissa Ebken  28:19  
Lisa, your story is so inspiring. And you have created space by sharing your story. For others to be able to grieve the way they want to need to grieve. By sharing this with us today you have given someone who is listening, a respite, a place to say I might be alright. And I might find a way through this. But whenever if ever that happens right now I'm okay. I'm as I should be. So thank you for that. That's a tremendous gift you've given. And I appreciate you so much for showing up today and for sharing that story with us. And do you have any last words for someone who might be listening today?

Lisa Zega  29:08  
We don't move on from our loss. We move on with it. We get to keep like some people are afraid that like I'm letting them go on moving beyond them. You're carrying them with you like as we allow grief to assimilate within us I would say grief is love to deny this, these parts of you that have experienced loss, to deny your grief is to deny love for these parts to deny love for your people. So we want to retain all the memories, all the goodies. And we want to release like there's unfinished business, in every situation with every person and we want to be able to release that and retain the goodness and that's what the grief journey does for us. I'd love for people to reach out to me with any questions or thoughts or just and, and I love working with people on this journey and for the Christians out there, I'd say we don't need to protect God. God is here healing and protecting us. And so to say that I was wronged, or even to say, I believe I was wrong by you God. Or like, God is big enough for your pain, like all of it.

Melissa Ebken  30:42  
Beautiful. Thank you, Lisa. And friend if you want to follow Lisa, get in touch with Lisa. All of the information you need to do that as in the show notes so make sure you check it out and click on the links and follow her on social media and check out what she has to offer. She's an amazing human being.

🎶 Episode Outro: Thank you so much for tuning into today's episode. If this encouraged you, please consider subscribing to our show and leaving a rating and review so we can encourage even more people just like yourself. We drop a new episode every Wednesday so I hope you continue to drop in and be encouraged to lean into and overcome all the uncomfortable stuff life brings your way. 🎶

Lisa Michelle ZegaProfile Photo

Lisa Michelle Zega

Lisa Michelle Zega is a Life Coach for spiritual people experiencing loss that mere religion can’t hold. She guides them to process grief through LOVE and move from the emptiness of rigid certainty to the vibrancy of a life flourishing in hope and mystery. She helps them metabolize grief to assimilate its nutrients, learning and wisdom and release the waste, so they can begin again with joy, confidence, hope, and love for the sake of the world.