After a lightning bolt destroyed her home in 2016, the Rev. Jen Crow could have become insular and bitter. Instead, the senior minister at First Universalist Church of Minneapolis channeled her grief and anger into healing those around her. But the evolution was not immediate. Left with nothing but her precious family, Crow spent years reconstructing her life from childhood, pondering what she wanted to carry forward literally and figuratively, and challenging herself to a new mission of helping others through their own trials by fire. Author of the newly released, "Take What You Need: Life Lessons After Losing Everything," she shares more of her journey below.

Q: Some of your readers have compared your traumatic experience to that of fleeing Ukrainians, but the comparison makes you uncomfortable. Might you say more about that?

A: They understand that I know what it means to have to suddenly pack up and go — to take only the most important things. But, whoa, it is not the same. Nobody is trying to kill me. My wife and two children are OK. The fire was a random act. But it did give me instant clarity about what is important.

Q: And you make clear that what's important isn't things anymore.

A: The things that mattered after the fire were photos, jewelry — not because the jewelry was worth anything but because it had been passed down for generations. For the kids, we were looking for their stuffed animals, their comfort items. Our priorities have shifted. We are lucky to again live in a beautiful house and have beautiful things. But at the end of the day, what matters is, is everybody OK? Everything you know can fall away.

Q: You didn't set out to write a book. So, how did it happen?

A: I was writing for myself as a way to heal from the fire experience, to process that. I published an essay and got a great response. The publisher reached out and said, we think this is a book. That essay became the first chapter.

Q: You write that, "God knows I did not want that fire." Ultimately, though, your book isn't about a literal fire but more about the metaphorical fires we all face, "transformational moments, thresholds, portals," in your words, that we all must move through. You're very candid about your mother's struggles with mental illness. For others, there is addiction, or feelings of failure.

A: Originally, the book was centered around the literal fire experience. But I started to hear often, and reflect upon, certain metaphors: a lightning-bolt moment, the fire inside you. This experience happens in some form for everybody.

Q: Still, as a spiritual leader, you understand well our human desire to avoid pain, to avoid the work necessary to grow because…it's hard! But it sounds like your new mission is to nudge us to do that work. Did I get that right?

A: Yes. Helping folks increase their tolerance for discomfort is one of my goals for myself and for my congregation. Discomfort is not a bad thing. And at the same time, pain is not inherently a good thing. But discomfort and pain can be part of growth. They should not be avoided.

Q: And might moving into our third year of COVID challenges offer a good opportunity to practice that?

A: We are living in a liminal time — an in-between time — from where we were to where we're going to be. We must resist the temptation to move too quickly out of it. I forced myself to do an intentional examination of my fire story: What happened? What did I learn? What do I want to keep? Those willing to process COVID can ask themselves: What are the five things I'm going to carry out of this pandemic? It's essential to do this work on purpose.

Q: Another of your personal goals, I believe, is to no longer live in resentment and fear. I think we all wish for that. So, how did you get there?

A: These are things I've been working on for years. But in writing how to do that, I began to see that it was more about asking: How is it possible for us to look at key moments in our lives and grow in compassion? How can something so hard be turned to good? Lightning or pandemic — there's a moment when everything gets clear. What matters? My health, your health. A sense of connection.

Q: You'd also like us to get better at joy. Where is that coming from?

A: In theology school, we all knew that we could learn and grow through suffering. I'm really interested in the flip side: Can we learn and grow through joy? And I think, yes. I experienced joy with the birth of my kids. It gave me a sense of connection to the whole of humanity in a way I've never experienced.

Q: You were thrilled to be back in person for worship this Easter. How have the last two-plus COVID years changed your congregation?

A: I am most worried about the mental health crisis among teens and young adults — the impact has been very real for teenagers, in particular. As a spiritual leader, I'm also worried that folks are already forgetting what they learned from the pandemic. The desire to go back to normal is so strong that we are going to forget what was so clear: Racial disparities still exist, our health care, public safety, education and housing systems are still broken. As we return to whatever is normal, part of that old normal is not seeing, not acknowledging. The goal is to hold on tight to each other and keep reminding each other of what needs healing.

The Rev. Jen Crow will speak about her book, "Take What You Need: Life Lessons After Losing Everything," at 7 p.m. on May 10 at Moon Palace Books, 3032 Minnehaha Av., Minneapolis.