Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Jen Rebo and part of the reason I agreed to participate in this project is to combat my dislike (okay, maybe fear) of having my picture taken. Perform a skit in front of hundreds? Not a problem. See a camera lens pointed in my direction? Instant awkwardness. Having survived the photo shoot – thank you, Jessi, for making it easy! – I’ll now take on the interview.
I’m fifty-three years old, the mother of four, the grandmother of six, and the wife of one. I’ve lived in Helena for over twenty years and was in Seattle prior to that. Before Seattle was my childhood, with lots of moving, leaving friends and making new ones, and changing homes, schools, states and countries (Air Force brat). Settling in Seattle and living in one place took some getting used to, so I eased into it by rearranging the furniture about every other month. My long-suffering husband quickly knew better than to come home at night and try to walk through the house in the dark. Who knew where the couch would be that week?
We’ve been empty-nesters for almost ten years and I love it! Raising a family was great, but the end goal was to usher our kids into responsible adulthood. With that accomplished, I’m happy to be in this next season of life. I keep busy with a bookkeeping business that my daughter and I own and run, and another job as the manager of the Gateway Center. I’m also active in my church, leading some ministry teams, facilitating a small group and teaching a class. As an introvert, these commitments pretty much use up my quota of words and socialization for the week, so my down time is often very quiet and spent alone or with only my husband.
I’m an organized person with minimalist tendencies. I don’t like clutter and can be ruthlessly unsentimental about items, including stuff that others would label as keepsakes. I’m also a bit of an efficiency nerd, doing things like figuring out how long I need to microwave the water for my tea so that, a) it’s at the perfect temperature for steeping the bag but not burning my lips off my face and, b) when the microwave turntable stops, the cup handle is once again facing the front for easy and safe removal of the mug. (Just in case you wanted to know, this is 80 seconds in my microwave at home and two minutes for the one at work.) I don’t have time to go into the details of how I’ve arranged items in my little make-up tote, but suffice it to say that things are placed for maximum efficiency and ease of use!
You have a big love of books. In fact, we have quite literally placed you next to your love in this photo. Tell us about that and maybe sprinkle in some of your favorites.
From as far back as I can remember, I’ve loved words and the crafted combinations of them: fiction and non-fiction, encyclopedias, classic poetry, magazine articles, screenplays, dictionaries, song lyrics, handwritten letters, the list of ingredients on a tube of toothpaste, the snow leopard factoids on the back of a box of Cocoa Puffs. My mom told me that when I was little I would read the newspaper out loud, with mispronunciations that turned dry news into funny stories that made her laugh. I remember being excited to start kindergarten, and then being confused and disappointed when my teacher told me that I wasn’t allowed to read in her classroom. She was teaching us the alphabet and wasn’t going to be sidetracked by a student that could already read. Later that school year when we moved to another state, I became a kindergarten dropout.
I started buying books when I was in elementary school, filling out the Scholastic order form with a seriousness that bordered on reverence. An inordinate amount of time was spent determining which books to buy, adding numbers on my scratch paper and keeping the total expenditure within the book-buying budget, (set and financed by Mom). Some titles I remember: Ramona the Pest, Encyclopedia Brown, and Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl. Other books that I got as a kid, (and still own and re-read), are Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” series, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and sequels, and The Secret Garden.
As an adult, I only buy a few books a year and they’re almost always non-fiction. Purchases are limited to something I know I’ll want to keep and reread; probably something I’ll want to highlight while reading. Most of my reading material is from the library, where I go about three times a month to load up my canvas bag with all sorts of literary treasures. And if a book I’ve chosen turns out not to be a treasure? It gets ditched mid-read and put back in the canvas bag. Life’s too short to spend it reading mediocre crap.
Some authors that I like: C.S. Lewis (his non-fiction stuff), Sue Grafton, Jan Karon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martha Grimes, Georgette Heyer, David Baldacci, Anne Lamott (in small doses), Mark Buchanan, Elizabeth George and Watchman Nee.
What about music? Do you have a favorite song or musician?
I don’t have a favorite song or band, but some of my Pandora stations are The Weepies, Dire Straits, Jon Foreman, Death Cab for Cutie, Phoenix, Andrew Peterson, Steely Dan, Paul Simon, Enter the Worship Circle, Norah Jones, and The Police. Mark Knopfler is probably closest to being my favorite musician.
Since you’re such a word person, what are some of your favorite quotes?
Being a fan of perseverance, I’ve always liked this one: “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.'” – Mary Anne Radmacher
One that’s been meaningful to me lately is by Will Rogers, “Never miss a good chance to shut up.” I’ve been in a long season of purposefully staying quiet, not writing or sharing opinions, not adding my voice to the clamor. (This interview has been the exception, and it’s been harder than I thought to use my voice.)
Let’s talk about inspiration. What sort of person inspires you?
People that better their community and invest in others. People that fight for justice, act kindly and live humbly. They inspire me to give my all.
On a completely different inspirational track, a good haircut and new pair of tennis shoes make me feel like I can conquer the world!
Who from your past has most influenced who you are today and how?
I only know him through his books, but Oswald Chambers has greatly influenced who I am today. For the past 10 years or so, I’ve read his book, My Utmost for His Highest as my daily devotional. It provides regular spiritual realignment, encouraging me to keep focused on God for His own sake, not because of what He can do for me or even what I can do for Him, but because of who He is.
“When we no longer seek God for His blessings, we have time to seek Him for Himself.” – Oswald Chambers
Coffee or tea?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Introvert or extrovert?
Introvert, but not afraid of public speaking and not particularly shy.
Dress up or dress down?
Down. Jeans and a t-shirt. Dressing up is adding a scarf.
Cats or dogs?
Sunrise or sunset?
Both! Sunrise is the gift of all the possibilities in a day. Sunset is the time to give thanks for the gift and reflect on what you did with it.
Detailed or abstract?
Some kind of a combo deal on this one. I’m a Big Picture person that’s detail-oriented.
Classic or modern?
Call or text?
Fiction or non-fiction?
Both, at a ratio of two-to-one. For every fiction book I’m reading, I also like to be reading a non-fiction one about God or the Christian church, and another non-fiction one that I can glean from, like The Power of Habit. Actually there’s always a third non-fiction book in the mix: The Bible.
Salty or Sweet?
What do you love most about Montana?
I love the majesty and grandeur of the place itself. Big sky, rocky terrain, dusty tumbleweeds, towering mountains, sweetly-flowered meadows, indigo lakes, abandoned barns and homesteads, and lonely roads. I thank God for letting me live where He has created such beauty.
I also love the rugged individualism of the people that live here. With nine months of winter and three months of rough sledding, it’s not for sissies. And Montanans appear to need a bit more personal space than others, with an average of only 9 people living in each of the 145,500+ square miles here. As a lover of uncluttered spaces, I find Montana a perfect fit for my particular aesthetic sensibilities!
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
Two things come to mind. The first is homeschooling. I homeschooled our four kids all the way through 12th grade, 18 years of putting together curriculum, adjusting teaching methods based on their different learning styles, and being careful to leave room for them to explore and develop personal interests in the arts, the community, sports, hobbies and hopefully a relationship with God, while also encouraging them to look around and see how they could positively impact the lives of others, either through volunteer work, being a good friend, extending kindness or making where they lived a better place. While homeschooling, I also ran my own bookkeeping business or had other jobs, was involved with or lead different ministries, and was active in our homeschool networks and groups. During all this, there were seasons when my husband’s job took him away from home for extended amounts of time – occasionally as much as a month – and I did the whole thing as a solo act. I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world, but it required a LOT of hard work, personal sacrifice and perseverance. Oy. I get tired just thinking about it…
More recently, in February 2013 our family was hit with the double blow of both of my parents’ deaths within 60 hours of one another. I was the executrix of their estate, a big undertaking with an even bigger learning curve for me. They had a will, but probate is still mandatory in SC where they lived. And because they died separately, both of their estates went into separate probates. I hired a local lawyer to help navigate the probate court and its requirements, but I still had to deal with closing bank, investment and personal accounts, providing periodic financial accountings to the probate judge, going through and getting rid of all of their belongings, cleaning up and selling their property, and filing their personal and the estate taxes. My sister and I made numerous trips across country to get the property ready to be sold, logging in about 2 months worth of 12+ hour days to get all the buildings empty and things cleaned up. So. Much. Work. Almost exactly two years after they died, with the property sold, the final disbursements made and the last taxes filed, the probate was officially closed. It wasn’t until then that I felt like I had the ability to grieve. About a month after the estate was completely settled, I cried for the first time.
For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
There are so many things! Saving grace, thumbs, family, God’s written word, hope, eyesight, a loving husband, the ability to laugh, a place to call home, great kids, a car that runs, brothers and sisters in Christ, my health, my business, my job, hearing from God, opportunities to be generous, food on the table, the ability to walk, living close to grandkids, good neighbors and great friends, the changing seasons, America and its freedoms, mentors and teachers, the merciful love of a Heavenly Father.