THE BLOG

Love And The Power of Now

06/13/2014 09:00 am ET

Despite a devastating medical diagnosis, a young couple is determined to fill their lives with joy, love and beautiful memories. And by sharing their story in a new documentary film, they also hope to inspire others.

Steve Dezember was only 28 when he learned he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a fatal progressive neurodegenerative disease often called "Lou Gehrig's disease." Told he might have just months to live, the engineering recruiter from Johns Creek, Georgia vowed to make the most of whatever time he had left.

Two days after the June, 2011 diagnosis, Steve took his girlfriend, Hope Cross, to their favorite spot by the river, dropped to one knee and proposed. At their wedding in October of that year, he vowed to Hope "to fight and do all I can to stay here on earth with you as long as God will allow me," telling her that, "your passion, strength and charisma inspire me every day."

At the wedding, Steve was still well enough to walk down the aisle and even dance. Although his health rapidly deteriorated afterwards, his spirit remained strong. He and Hope launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a documentary about their lives, Hope for Steve, aimed at raising awareness of ALS, which currently has no cure.

Striving to Make Every Day an Adventure

The couple spent 18 months traveling around the United States, striving to make every day an adventure. "Look at the simple things that God has given you, such as the ability to type, breathe, talk [and] kiss your wife," Steve wrote in his blog in 2012, "and be happy about them for they can be taken away in an instant.

"Live your life to the fullest and never take a day for granted," adds Steve, who is no longer able to speak, move or even breathe on his own. Yet the Dezembers refuse to give in to despair or self-pity. Every day, friends visit and fill their home with music, laughter and love. The couple wants to end each day with new, happy memories of their time together, however short it may be.

Kindness and Gratitude Are Contagious

To me, their story is a celebration of what Eckhart Tolle calls The Power of Now in his international bestseller of that title. By focusing fully on the present, he writes, we can escape pain and embark on a journey that ultimately leads to "incredible bliss."

The key is not just seizing the day -- but each moment, with passion and purpose. The Dezambers believe that Steve's fervent wish to live to see the film released and give "Hope" to the public has helped extent his life beyond his doctors' initial predictions.

Through my involvement with the Daniel Plan, a journey to better health fueled by faith, focus, food and fitness and friends, I've discovered that a commitment to helping others has truly amazing benefits.

  • Kindness is contagious. Studies show that if one person starts acting in a caring, grateful and generous way, people around them start to act the same manner. What's more, the domino effect rapidly cascades though a social network and ultimately influences hundreds of others, either directly or indirectly, scientists from Harvard and University of California, San Diego report.
  • Grateful people are happier. Materialists are more likely to be depressed, have trouble with relationships, and suffer from poor self-esteem than those who are grateful, according to a recent study in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
  • Caring for others can add years to your life. Confounding conventional beliefs, a 2013 analysis by Johns Hopkins researchers found that taking care of a chronically ill or disabled family member not only fails to increase health risks, but actually increased life expectancy by nine months over the six-year study. Experts had previously believed that the stress of caregiving would be linked to a shorter life and greater vulnerability to illness. The study included 3.503 family caregivers, ages 45 and older, who were compared with a matched group of 3,503 non-caregivers.
  • We get better together. As Rick Warren, Dr. Mark Hyman and I report in our book, The Daniel Plan: 40 Days to a Healthier Life, a group commitment to wellness can transform health. During the first year of following this program, the 15,000 participants collectively lost more than 250,000 pounds, while also reporting striking in blood pressure, blood sugar, energy and mood. Our research also shows that people who team up to get healthy drop twice as much weight as those who diet alone.

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