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September 8th, 2012
10:00 PM ET

From Kurt Warner’s wife to ‘Christian famous’

By Dan Merica, CNN

Washington (CNN) – In a stadium filled with 8,000 evangelical Christian women, one person near the stage stands out.

Sporting short salt-and-peppered hair, broad shoulders and a high-collared shirt, the man sits calmly as ballerinas flutter across the stage, women tell jokes about menopause and the event’s emcee announces that almost all the men’s rooms at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington have been converted to female restrooms for the night, provoking a round of applause.

For Kurt Warner, former quarterback for the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals and two-time National Football League MVP, this is about as far away from the testosterone-driven world of the gridiron as you can get.

Onstage is the reason Warner’s here: Brenda Warner, her angular face and close-cropped blonde hair radiating in professional lighting, telling the audience about God’s plan for her life.

For years, Brenda was known as Kurt’s uber-supportive wife – a woman whose unflinchingly defense and championing of her superstar husband sometimes made news in it its own right.

Today, two years into Kurt’s retirement, those roles are changing.

My Faith: What people talk about before they die

Brenda has become what some call "Christian famous" - a renowned evangelical speaker who tours the country with the likes of the 2012 Women of Faith tour, which will reach tens of thousands of Christian women with a message of hope and faith. As one of the tour’s headliners, Brenda will travel the country each weekend until November to tell her story – one of heartbreak, love and growth.

Through much of it, Kurt will be there with her, sitting in the audience as his wife does her thing before throngs of adoring fans.

“Brenda Warner is no longer Kurt Warner’s wife,” one awestruck woman says after listening to Brenda’s story at the Verizon Center. “Kurt Warner is now Brenda Warner’s husband.”

‘We need each other, we all have a story’

Brenda Warner’s story is a tear-jerker, whether or not you accept the God part.

When she was 18, she joined the Marine Corps, a job that took her from her hometown of Parkersburg, Iowa, to bases in Japan and in Virginia Beach, Virginia – where she would marry another Marine and give birth to a baby boy.

When Brenda begins to explain her life to the crowd in Washington, women applaud for the lines about joining the Marines and having baby Zachary.

Then the story takes a dark turn.

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While working one day in Virginia Beach, Brenda got a phone call that changed her life. Her husband had dropped Zachary on his head, an accident that would leave their toddler legally blind and developmentally disabled. Speaking in Washington, Brenda recounts the scene at the hospital.

“Zachary had a seizure – they worked around him trying to stop it,” she says. “I did all that I knew to do – I called out, ‘Jesus, Jesus, let this be the last seizure.’”

A hush has fallen over the stadium. Women wipe tears from their cheeks; one has pulled her pink T-shirt over her eyes.

She and her husband struggled to make things work with Zachary, Brenda continues. She got pregnant again, she tells the audience, but when she was a month from her due date her husband told her he had feelings for another woman. “I got out of bed, I called home and said mama come get me,” she says. “He doesn't love me, after all that we have been through.”

Brenda became a registered nurse, largely to learn how to better cope with Zachary’s condition. To make ends meet, she stood in line for food stamps and moved out of her parent’s basement and into low-income housing.

Then, another bombshell.

One night in 1996, Brenda’s sister called to report that their mother and father, who had retired to a cabin in Arkansas, had been killed in a tornado. Their house had been wiped off the map.

“They were always my soft place to fall,” Brenda tells the crowd.

At this point, the woman with her head in her T-shirt is a sobbing headless body. But as quickly as she has just dropped the mood, Brenda builds it up by telling the women that God brought her through it all.

“I married that football player,” she says, gesturing toward Kurt. “He adopted my two and we have five more.” Tears are giving way to applause.

Kurt and Brenda Warner first met when Kurt was playing college football at University of Northern Iowa.

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Near the end of the speech, Brenda brings Zachary out to say hello to the crowd.

“If you have ever felt like life has cheated you, stand up with me,” Brenda says. “If you have ever felt disappointed in life, stand with me. If you have ever received a call that changed your life forever, brought you to your knees and took your breath away, look around, we are all in this together, we need each other, we all have a story.”

Afterward, many women say they saw themselves in Brenda’s story.

“She is just a normal everyday mom raising a family just like everybody,” says Sena Hohman, her two daughters accompanying her to the event. “Hearing these stories, you find out she is just like me, with ups and downs in life, with peaks and valleys.

“To be able to see somebody has overcome” what she has, said Judy Gerlitz from Centerville, Virginia, “shows me that I can do it.”

Super Bowl champion, philanthropist

When she’s offstage, Brenda and Kurt often operate as a team in their faith-based work.

On the recent Friday morning before Brenda addresses the Women of Faith conference, the couple find themselves in a small, bland conference room in downtown Washington.

Kurt takes notes while Brenda’s eyes stay fixed on the architect who’s briefing them. The topic: plans for a multi-apartment home for developmentally disabled young adults that the Warners want to build in their hometown of Scottsdale, Arizona.

The project is inspired by Zachary, now a 23-year-old high school graduate.

“Zach has probably impacted more people than all of us combined because there is something unique and special and honest about these individuals that see it like it is and call it like they see it,” Kurt says.

Zachary lives in a group house in St. Louis. The Warners are modeling the group home they’re building in Arizona, called Treasure House, on the St. Louis Life concept for independent living for those with special needs.

At the meeting in Washington, Kurt is very much in control, with the architect and a consultant urge the Warners to use Kurt’s celebrity to help raise funds. “Leverage your history,” the consultant says, looking at Kurt and talking football.

Kurt’s story, like Brenda’s, includes some letdowns. After going unselected in the 1994 NFL draft as a quarterback out of University of Northern Iowa, Kurt became a Hy-Vee grocery store stock clerk to make money. While stocking shelves, he signed with the Iowa Barnstorms, an Arena Football League team in Des Moines, Iowa. With his big arm and accuracy, he became an AFL star.

After a short stint with NFL Europe, Kurt became the third -tring quarterback for the St. Louis Rams for the 1998 season. In 1999, after an injury to the Rams’ starting quarterback, he got his chance. Leading the Rams to a Super Bowl XXXIV victory, Kurt won both the league and Super Bowl MVP award that year.

Kurt Warner drops back to pass in Super Bowl XXXIV, a game his St. Louis Rams defeated the Tennessee Titans, 23-16.

Brenda was there through all of it, from AFL to NFL. She and Kurt met while Kurt was attending college in Cedar Falls, Iowa, at a country bar where she was taking line dancing classes. She worried he wouldn’t be able to handle the fact she was divorced with two kids.

When he showed up the morning after their first date and said he wanted to meet her kids, Brenda says, “I feel in love with him before he fell in love with me.”

When Kurt led the Rams to their 1999 Super Bowl victory, not only was Brenda there - she became part of the story.

Brenda was vocally defensive of her husband when he had a bad game, even calling into radio stations to criticize the Rams coaching staff. That zeal and her on-camera postgame kisses for the star quarterback had some fans calling her the Yoko Ono of football.

Throughout his 12-year NFL career, Kurt was known for both his skill and overt faith. “Well, first things first,” Warner told a reporter after his first Super Bowl victory. “I've got to thank my Lord and Savior up above — thank you, Jesus!”

The interview provided a name for Kurt’s foundation, First Things First, which is “dedicated to impacting lives by promoting Christian values, sharing experiences and providing opportunities.” The group raises money, taking advantage of Kurt’s NFL connections, and organizes events for ill and developmentally disabled children.

Today, Kurt spends much of his time on such work. It’s why he’s talking building schematics instead of defensive schemes.

“My retirement isn’t quite like what people think about with retirement,” Warner says. “I am very busy and have a lot of things that I am active in. It is not a complete 180 from being gone every day to being home every day.”

But talking about civil engineering in a drab hotel conference room is a long way from the National Football League. The common thread: Brenda and their religious faith.

Bonded by faith

Kurt says he had wanted Brenda to pursue her speaking career for years. But while he rose to superstardom, Brenda was a stay-at-home mom.

Now that Kurt is home more, he says, Brenda is free to pursue her dreams.

“What we have realized is there are seasons in all of our lives and dreams take sacrifices but they become family things,” Kurt says. “Dreams are family dreams.”

Brenda and Kurt now work closely together planning the couple's newest philanthropic venture – Treasure House.

Armed with her story and the star power that comes with her last name, Brenda has carved her own path on the Christian speaking circuit. Asked about the Warners at the Verizon Center’s Women of Faith event, only a few of the attendees know about her famous husband.

The tour is marketed to evangelical women to “celebrate what matters,” and also features appearances by female evangelical authors and media personalities. The tour is like a conference, with sessions on different challenges women face.

Kurt and Brenda see their changing professional seasons as part of God’s plan for them. “I don’t think that is the way that I would have written it, but I see that God has worked it out for good,” Brenda says. “I can see how he has been faithful. I can say now I am grateful.”

Telling her story has become second nature for Brenda. She has become expert in pitching God as the cure to heartache.

“He called me by name, he loves me and he won’t leave me,” Brenda repeats in her speech. “God was true to his word that he wouldn’t leave me.”

And neither, it seems, will Kurt.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Faith Now • Sports

soundoff (1,652 Responses)
  1. worldcares

    I made a universal comment and you placed me with next to John's bad acid trip?
    Thanks alot.

    September 9, 2012 at 5:43 am |
  2. Medicated

    My mind n heart resonate w what Scott CA, therealpeace2all, Bootyfunk (LOL re John-I have choice words for that Saul/Paul guy too), Sam Yaza, Comment n Can being alive kill you? all have to say.

    Needless to say I'm conflicted. I mean, I shudder n cry at a story like this. So much hurt is part of being human. Yet organised religion gives me the creeps, has always done so, n proved itself not for me when I went through n completed seminary n realised I didn't like what I saw at all after being given access to the "insider" world of clergy/clergy in training – n I wasn't even trying to ally myself w a truly "Christian" denomination or a particular religion.

    I chose to be sponsored by the one that's supposed to be so accepting to whatever a person believes or doesn't n brings w her/him upon entering the door. You know, the one who calls themselves creedless n free of dogma.

    I'm now banned from the pulpit.

    I didn't tow the party line of this most open (open even to atheists-on paper) "church" n criticised its participation in racism, classism, elitism, called them out on denial of their (I used to use the word "our" to show I included myself in the need to improve though I'm only poor non-white intellectual elitist) Christian origins, as well as what I recognise now as "pseudo" acceptance of beliefs n practices that seem weird to them, or that they learned to call occult or primitive, n even of their unwillingness to truly accept the atheist individuals who were vocal about not vibing w liturgy, the choice of an actual church building for space, n the use of all kinds of religious language like Reverend, Church Service, Religious Education/Sunday School, Laity vs Clergy separation n hierarchy-not to mention having strict "guidelines n principles" for ministers n congregations to follow, which are basically creed n dogma by another name.

    Anyway, but I do feel love for this woman n her story; n I can relate to many parts of it personally. I also want an explanation as to why she gives credit to God n not her own strength n perserverence. Many non Christian women n men could benefit from hearing her story n learning more details about what sustains her if she took the god language out n actually got down to the nitty gritty of what got her through each day.

    I'm still trying to pursue my calling to be a what religious folks call "chaplain for dying people." but it's so difficult without church affiliation. I'm not sure I'm religious n I don't know what I'll teach my 8mo old son besides the basics of "well these people believe this, these people don't call themselves believers, n these people believe this other thing..." My degree in religion n post-masters interfaith education will help me explain lots to him-except what it is exactly I believe.

    Well now I refer to my calling as wanting to be a "Speaker For The Dead n Listener To The Dying" á la Orson Scott Card's sci-fi.

    I'm appalled to hear Brenda Warner berated someone who asked her for money, if that really happened. I'd like to know what she'd say if one confronted her about that, one on one though, not on YouTube, which can make anybody defensive.

    Anyway, I've rattled on too much.

    Later.

    September 9, 2012 at 4:05 am |
  3. worldcares

    When I see these derogatory comments:
    "And all God's love is out of style" Laura Nyro~ song, "Christmas is in my Soul~ album, "Christmas and the Beads of Sweat"

    September 9, 2012 at 4:04 am |
  4. therealpeace2all

    Reblogged this on peace2alldotme.

    September 9, 2012 at 1:37 am |
  5. ScottCA

    September 9, 2012 at 1:27 am |
    • ScottCA

      Tom Tom, watch this one, it talks a little about the J@panese belief that the emperor is god on earth.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:34 am |
    • ScottCA

      Tom Tom, I have been searching since our talk about J@pan to find the name of the book that the doctoral candidate that I worked with in J@pan gave to me. The name of the book is J@pan: A reinterpretation. By Patrick Smith. This Book will give you a look into J@panese society that usually takes well over 5 years of working and living in the most sensitive parts of the society to gain.

      He opens up the dirty secrets in the closet that no J@panese writer or publisher has addressed. This will help you understand why I say much of J@panese society still views the emperor as god, without it being necessary to say it aloud.
      Book into:
      Winner of the Overseas Press Club Award
      for the best book on Foreign Affairs
      A New York Times Notable Book of the year
      "A stimulating, provocative book . . . fresh and valuable."
      –The New York Times Book Review

      September 9, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  6. ScottCA

    September 9, 2012 at 1:25 am |
  7. ScottCA

    September 9, 2012 at 1:21 am |
  8. therealpeace2all

    Regardless of my personal opinions about the Warner's christian evangelism, this is still a good story, IMHO, and it sounds like they have, and are continuing making efforts to do some good in the world.

    Yeah,... I'd prefer it be without them "Godding" to everyone, but... ultimately, I would rather see someone get up and *take action* and make a difference... whether they believe in a god or not.

    Peace...

    September 9, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  9. AvdBerg

    Are those that call themselves ‘Christians’ (e.g. evangelicals) followers of the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Word of God, or do they follow after an image of a false god and a false Christ (Matthew 24:24: 2 Cor. 11:13-15: Gal. 4:8)?

    For a better understanding of the history of religion and Christianity and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘The Mystery Babylon’ and ‘False Apostles and False Christs’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    September 9, 2012 at 12:49 am |
    • Bootyfunk

      Revelation was just John's bad acid trip. that dude was bat sh.it crazy.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:06 am |
    • worldcares

      The sun rises and the sun sets. That is beautiful and who cannot love that?
      That is religious.

      September 9, 2012 at 4:47 am |
  10. Reality

    Dear Kurt,

    Based on the following, you might want to reconsider:

    Putting the kibosh/”google” on religion :

    • There was probably no Abraham i.e. the foundations of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are non-existent.

    • There was probably no Moses i.e the pillars of Judaism, Christianity and Islam have no strength of purpose.

    prob•a•bly
    Adverb: Almost certainly; as far as one knows or can tell.

    • There was no Gabriel i.e. Islam fails as a religion. Christianity partially fails.

    • There was no Easter i.e. Christianity completely fails as a religion.

    • There was no Moroni i.e. Mormonism is nothing more than a business cult.

    • Sacred/revered cows, monkey gods, castes, reincarnations and therefore Hinduism fails as a religion.

    • Fat Buddhas here, skinny Buddhas there, reincarnated Buddhas everywhere makes for a no on Buddhism.

    Added details available upon written request.

    September 9, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  11. ScottCA

    September 8, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  12. ScottCA

    September 8, 2012 at 11:47 pm |
  13. ScottCA

    September 8, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  14. ScottCA

    September 8, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
  15. Sam Yaza

    i didn't read but i'm assuming its about some holier then tho woman who survived great tragedy only to keep her faith strong

    every one wants to be Job except Job

    on her way to this gathering she yelled at a man begging for food to get a job and she didn't tip her waitress either

    September 8, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
    • Sam Yaza

      i don't know i just get that filling about her you know the one

      September 8, 2012 at 11:10 pm |
    • ScottCA

      LMAO well said.

      September 8, 2012 at 11:15 pm |
  16. Comment

    I know they were just minor characters, but don't you just feel for those parents of hers that had to die in a tornado to help build the great faith of this faithy woman? Or the poor child who was dropped on his head?

    September 8, 2012 at 10:49 pm |
  17. ScottCA

    September 8, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
    • Bob

      My back looks like that. Young men listen to what I say. Make your bitches cut their fingernails.

      September 8, 2012 at 10:54 pm |
  18. ScottCA

    September 8, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  19. ScottCA

    Faith requires one to believe in something even in the absence of evidence and in the presence of evidence to the contrary. This suppression of the minds ability to logically reason leads to belief in untruths that send ripples of distortion into every area of examination and study. This in turn leads to political and social decisions based in misinformation. The end result is the suffering of people.

    Examples are 9/11 hijackings, The holding back of stem cell research that could save countless human lives, Aids being spread due to religious opposition to the use of condoms, Christians legally fighting this year to teach over 1 million young girls in America that they must always be obedient to men, the eroding of child protection laws in America by Christians, for so called faith based healing alternatives that place children's health and safety at risk, burning of witches, the crusades, Nazi's thinking the Aryans were gods chosen to rule the world, etc… But who cares about evidence in the real world when we have our imaginations and delusions about gods with no evidence of them existing.

    September 8, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
    • Grammy

      "Nazis", not "Nazi's".

      September 9, 2012 at 12:42 am |
  20. Can being alive kill you?

    I think I love those two. I mean love, you know what I mean/

    September 8, 2012 at 10:10 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.