“Bella… what is it?” Eric Johnson groaned, roused from sleep by the whine of his 6-year-old miniature Australian shepherd. It was after midnight in the Cookeville, Tennessee, house where he and his family all slept… all, he realized, except for Bella.
“Where are you, girl?” he coaxed, tracing the whimpering to its source beneath his bed. Sure enough, Bella’s blue eyes peered out at him, darting back and forth as if to say, Something’s wrong. Instantly, Eric felt his chest tighten as he woke his wife, Faith.
“Do you hear her?” he asked. “Something’s not right.” And as he tried and failed to lead her from beneath the bed by the glow of their television, a news alert flashed across the screen: A huge storm was headed their way, primed to hit in just 45 minutes.
The couple began calling all the neighbors they could, alerting them to the looming danger. “Stay safe!” Eric said, hanging up with the couple across the way who had a newborn baby, when Faith screamed: “We’re under a tornado warning!”
“Take cover now!” the weatherman urged, as the couple raced through their house, shaking their children awake to hunker down inside the bathtub.
“I’m getting the dogs!” Eric called to his wife, the house vibrating all around as he called to his pups, Bella and Scooter. But as the sound of wood and glass exploding filled the air, he threw himself on top of his family as a massive crush of air tore his home apart. And suddenly, Eric was sailing through the night, rain and debris pelting him, as his world went dark.
A Light In the Darkness
Coming to moments later, Eric awoke again to blackness and pain at the back of his head — but this time, it was punctuated by the sound of his neighbors’ calls for help.
“Faith!” he called, panic gripping him as he prayed to hear his name called back.
Suddenly, his heart lurched. “Eric!” his named drifted through the night. It was Faith’s voice, then, blessedly, his children’s. Eric navigated to where they sat, still huddled in the tub, surrounded by the rubble of their home.
Leading them to the only house left in their neighborhood, Eric discovered that, miraculously, no one in his family had been seriously hurt, nor had the couple and their baby across the street. But the family also realized that their dog Scooter had not survived the storm, and there was no sign of Bella… until Eric’s cellphone rang.
A Magical Reunion
“We just saw Bella!” reported a friend of Eric’s who was digging through the rubble. “She’s alive, but she ran off.” Immediately, Eric headed off to search for her, only to find that she had come and gone.
As days turned into weeks with no sign of Bella, the family started to lose hope. “She’s alive but we can’t find her,” Eric told his pastor. “It’s like a part of our family is missing.”
“I know someone who can help,” his pastor replied, reaching out to another church member, Sarah Romeyn, a volunteer for The Big Fluffy Dog Rescue in town. “I can help find her!” Sarah agreed, setting up trail cameras in the area. For weeks, she searched to no avail… until one day, she spotted Bella behind a friend’s pet grooming shop.
Dialing his number, Sarah told Eric the news she’d been waiting 54 days to share: “I found her!” And in minutes, he, his brother-in-law, and pastor had arrived, ready to make sure Bella didn’t slip through their hands again. But as Eric knelt down, catching his dog’s eye, he barely had time to call her name before Bella was racing into his arms as if to say, You found me — let’s go home, Dad!
Today, that home is being rebuilt, but for Sarah and Eric, their experience with Bella is helping them, and many others, to heal.
“The whole thing was amazing,” Sarah says. “I’m so grateful I was able to help!”
“God’s grace is so good,” Eric says. “Through this, we saw that good things can still come from our worst moments. Keep faith always: Your miracle will come!”
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.