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The 'family' diet

By Jordan Haymes

Two years ago Kirk Blanton weighed 280 pounds. Not bad if you happen to be an offensive lineman in the NFL — but definitely not good if you’re barely taller than 5 feet, have a penchant for junk food, and don’t particularly like exercising.

Today, Blanton is a trim 150 pounds. Friends and family say he has never been happier or more confident. And Blanton’s weight loss had nothing to do with a trendy diet, medical procedure or government program. Instead, a God-fearing family bent on helping Blanton was the prescription that transformed his life.

“He’s a completely different person,” says his mother, Evelyn Godinez.

Indeed he is.

Peers and strangers alike regularly picked on Blanton during his childhood, says Godinez of her 30-year-old son with Down syndrome. But today Blanton is happy, full of confidence, and sticking to the new way of life he learned under the tutelage of his aunt and uncle, Yancey and Jill Valdez, who serve as senior pastors of New Life Christian Assembly in Prather, Calif.

At a Thanksgiving dinner in 2006, Blanton weighed 280 pounds — the heaviest he had ever been. After seeing her nephew, Jill Valdez says she and Yancey felt a growing concern for him.

“After days of prayer and consideration we felt it was God’s will for us to bring him into our home,” she says.

The couple asked Godinez about such a possibility, and she consented. In January 2007 Blanton moved into the Valdez home.

The Valdezes have three children and all of them welcomed their cousin into the family.

“Every day we’d walk the short distance to our church to see ‘Yancey Big’ [as Blanton calls Yancey],” says Jill, noting that Blanton almost immediately began to lose weight.

At home Blanton was able to spend much time with his three younger cousins — Ciara, Beth and Yancey Jr. — because they are homeschooled. At mealtime the family would eat together. During the day Blanton and the kids would play outside. In the evenings the family attended church and participated in physical activities all of them could enjoy. By August 2007 Blanton had lost 60 pounds. Inspired by a goal, he continued to lose weight.

“We told him that if he lost 100 pounds we would take him to Disneyland,” says Yancey.

“Last fall we took him on our family trip to Disneyland,” adds Jill with a smile. “We never dreamed he would lose 100 pounds so fast.”

The Valdezes say as Blanton lost weight he developed and blossomed in other facets of his life too. Cory Maxwell, a certified strength and conditioning specialist for the fitness center at James River Assembly of God in Ozark, Mo., says that is not unusual.

“The key spiritual benefits of keeping our bodies healthy are discipline and confidence,” says Maxwell. “Those characteristics alone help people to grow in other areas of their lives.”

According to Jill Valdez, Blanton made huge strides in his discipline and confidence every week.

“When Kirk first came to stay with us he would sit on the back row of church and wouldn’t look at or talk to anyone,” she says. “But as he lost weight he slowly began building relationships with our church family. We could see his confidence and energy levels increasing, and he was happier.”

Blanton started singing in the church choir, handing out Sunday bulletins at the front door, and helping set up and break down equipment for various services.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of Blanton’s changed life was that he further developed his faith. Within the year, Yancey says, Blanton understood that God created heaven and earth, that Jesus loved him, and that he was glorifying God with his body by being healthy so that he could bless others.

Once Blanton had maintained his weight for several months, the Valdezes decided it was time for him to move back home. Since being with his mom and stepdad, Blanton continues to regularly attend church, eat healthy, exercise and even participates in a Special Olympics-style bowling league.

“He’s so much happier now,” says Godinez. “I’m so grateful to Jill and Yancey.”

The Valdez family talks to Blanton on the phone regularly, and he visits them often.

“God absolutely blessed us through the entire situation,” says Jill.

Yancey Valdez concurs.

“Kirk really opened my heart to deepening my compassion for others,” he says. “His faith reminds me to go back to the elementary truths of God’s Word.”

JORDAN HAYMES is a freelance writer who lives in southwest Missouri.

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