Haven Shepherd is a vivacious 9-year-old girl with a huge appetite for life. She lives in southwest Missouri with her wonderful family (a set of incredible parents and six fantastic siblings). She loves shopping, spending time with her friends, and running competitive races. She embraces all things girly (one of her favorite colors is pink) and she can strike up a conversation with anyone she meets. Haven, in a word, is darling.

Just when you think you can’t love Haven any more than you already do (trust us, it takes just over 12.7 seconds of giggling with her to know that she’s special), you learn her amazing story and you fall for her even more. Haven was adopted from Vietnam when she was 19 months old, but the story is far more detailed and complicated than that. Haven is a survivor.

Haven’s parents were married to other people when they first met. They quickly fell in love, but, per Vietnamese custom and culture, they were not permitted a divorce. They continued their intimate relationship in secret and Haven’s mother soon became pregnant. Life apart became too difficult for Haven’s parents to bear, especially when their sweet child was born. Haven served as constantly reminder them of the love her parents were forbidden. Her parents adopted a modern-day Romeo and Juliet mindset and decided to conduct a family suicide. Haven, it was determined, would perish alongside them. Haven’s parents constructed a homemade bomb that they strapped around their little family, placing their sweet baby in their arms. The bomb went off as planned; Haven’s parents were killed instantly. But, contrary to the original vision, Haven survived. Her lower legs had been severed during the explosion, but she was alive.

Haven’s maternal grandmother was unable to care for her – she was distraught at the loss of her daughter and she was financially unable to provide for a baby, let alone herself. Through connections with the U.S. based non-profit organization Touch A Life Foundation, Haven was granted a medical visa. When caretakers Rob and Shelly Shepherd came to Vietnam to help take Haven back to the States for surgery, they fell in love with the resilient baby girl. They knew at once that she needed to be part of their family, and when Haven was 19 months old, she officially became a Shepherd.

Haven has never been shy about her story. She knows that she has a purpose, that she has been divinely created to inspire others with her incredible life. Haven has also never been shy about the fact that she has prosthetic legs – it only takes 10 minutes of knowing her for her to ask, “Wanna see me without my legs? They’re fake.” After watching her older sisters excel in track and field, Haven decided that she, too, wanted to run. Her first race wasn’t successful – after getting out of the blocks, Haven stumbled to the ground. But, just as you’d expect, Haven got right back up and finished the race. She crossed the finish line victoriously, vowing to do better next time. And she has. Haven is an incredible competitor with plenty of gumption and determination.

The Challenged Athlete’s Foundation (CAF) donated Haven’s first pair of prosthetic racing legs, which are much more conducive to athletic activity than their standard, everyday counterparts. Learn more about Haven’s incredible life, her inspirational story, and her future track and field career by watching this video created by CAF.

Thank you, Haven, for teaching us about gratitude and purpose, and modeling God’s love to others in a tangible way. You are an inspiration.

Photo credit: https://vimeo.com/45530566