JB Bookstore—named for my brother—was more than a coffee shop with books. In Bayombong, the town in the Philippines where I grew up, it was a beloved gathering place. People came to talk, get news and enjoy a tasty merienda. It was busy every day. JB wasn’t just the family business; we lived above it. When my mother wasn’t teaching school, she ran the shop with my aunt; my father operated a printing press in the back. When I was 11, my family got bad news: The landlord canceled the lease and gave us a couple of months to move out.
“My husband has big plans for the area,” the landlord’s wife told my mother. She could see how upset my mom was at the news. “When I’m facing a big challenge,” the landlady said, “I say a novena to Saint Therese.”
My mother went to church every day, but she had never heard of this.
“Say this prayer for nine days,” the landlady said, writing it down for her. “You ask Saint Therese to join you. When God has answered your prayer, you’ll receive the sign of a rose.”
“What kind of rose?” asked my mother, more puzzled than reassured.
“It can be anything. A dream, a picture or a rose itself. Anything.”
The landlady had advised her to pray for strength to face the changes in our lives. Instead Mom asked for God to change the landlord’s mind so we could keep the store.
On her ninth day of prayer, Mom still hadn’t gotten a sign. At church that morning there were flowers on the altar. They were verbena, not roses, but they were very pretty. “Are you going to throw these away?” Mom asked one of the altar boys afterward. “If so, could I have some to plant?”
“I’ll bring them by the store,” he said.
The next day, the vase appeared, a big bouquet of verbena flowers and—
“What’s this?” Mom said. A single red rose tucked right in the center! Where had it come from? There had been no roses in church.
A week later, Mom was still puzzled—until she heard the news: The landlord had suddenly changed his mind. He wanted to extend our lease. His big plans had changed too. He didn’t know it, but he was following God’s plan now.
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