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.
Prayers, thanks and blessings to the Warners. It never ceases to amaze me how offended some people get about positive, faith based stories like this. The ignorance and hate displayed is some of these posts reek of self-frustration and unsettled souls trying to find their way. The amount of inaccurate and ignorant athiestic posts are too many to address – its just proves the world is full of ignorant, faithless people...thanks God they are the minority and always will be. I hope they find peace.
^ This type of faith based mentality is why America is going down hill.
here is an example of a couple of hard working people, who now that they have achieved a level of success responded by wanting to help others. ( not buying ridiculous houses and cars) ANd their motivation – a grateful hearted response to how their Creator provided for them. I would like to ask the haters on this blog – what are you doing to help the disabled kid down the street?
I do try to help out people, but I can't help everyone, nor should I be forced to. The point is, you can do right without any need or mention of a deity. I'm glad that they are doing some things to help out, but if they say they are doing it because a deity told them to, they make it sound like they believe they would be raving killers if left on their own.
That is very admirable of you, and I agree you can't help everyone, but here is a couple who now out of their excess and personal empathy for the disabled have found a place to put their energies and resources. and if there motivation is from a grateful heart for what God has given them, so be it. If yours is different, fine at least the poor are being taken care of
I wonder, is it just as futile to ask atheists to stop bullying mentally challenged christians and check their egos, as it is trying to convince christians they are wrong?
CS, you must be a Libra.
I don't think I'm bullying. Some people may not agree with what I say and I may not agree with what they say, but having conversations that don't degenerate into slug-fests is always good.
Well, that is a nice way of saying you like to hear yourself talk. Who is listening? Other atheists in the choir. Not christians.
The place to raise awarenes is fundamental to the following:
Speak the truth and be honest in your real everyday life. The blogs mean nothing and do nothing.
Raise our next generation of children to be rational. Stick to your guns.
Remember fellow atheists (hetero/glbt), don't stick it into crazy or let crazy stick it into you.
I lost count of the typo's in this article. CNN, I will be happy to proofread for fair pay.
No proofreading job for you if you are going to use the greengrocer's apostrophe for the plural, "typos" :)
Upwrdqst...You can't get more "enlightened" than JesusNotReligion...As a former "New Ager/Occultist" Jesus IS "The LIGHT"...THE lORD OF ALL"RAYS"...
Eddie...I think you should do some research to find out WHO (not what Political Party) formed these extensions of "faith-based" programs to help the poor...Your statement seems to be one laced with cynicism, and I would venture to say that your cynicism is due to ReligionNotJesus...Something to think about...or not...
Look at his face, on the CNN frontpage...would you buy a car from this guy?!?
Well, regardless of my strong personal opinions about the Warner's christian evangelism, this is still a good story, IMHO, and it sounds like they have, and are continuing to make 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.
I guess this is what she does for attention after the NFL thing is history. I'm sure they all want to vote against their reproductive systems by going Republican too.
True, He is the creator of everything, but not of evil. That belongs to a fallen angel, one He also created but who wanted the limelight all for himself. The question is Why does He allow it. It has to do with a promise He made to man. Again, seek out the truth and stop being blinded.
i imagine that only a lifetime of indoctrination could cause someone to espouse such nonsensical beliefs.
He either is or is not the creator of everything...and that INCLUDES evil.
IF god truly has infinite foresight, he knew what that angel would do and elected to make him anyway. God had the chance to prevent the existence of evil and chose not to. God also invented death, disease, famine, plague, war, and everything else bad as well as good.
I don't question how an all everything deity could allow evil, it would be in its very nature. An everything deity would value evil every bit as much as it would value good.
Philanthropy with public money..nice idea.
Afterward, many women say they saw themselves in Brenda’s story.
They saw themselves in Brenda's story..but only the ending is different....
I wonder if they saw themselves in an Amway pyramid scheme.
They are good people, no doubt about it. But I'm conflicted about wearing your faith so openly, I'm European and we had centuries of wars due to religion so we know what militant faith leads too.
I have the utmost respect for them but also am very wary about keeping faith and politics separated because that breeds intolerance to other people's beliefs (and I would like to know their position on other faiths) and ultimately to conflict. that is what we are witnessing in the US tight now, I just hope the Warners are not part of it and really follow the teachings of Jesus as they were intended....good luck to them
they wear their faith, plus Armani and Gucci
You hit the nail on the head: We have never had a religious war in the US and so are ignorant of how bad that can be. The growing fanaticism and irrational intolerance on all sides is very disturbing. The worst offenders not only wear their religion on their sleeves–they insist you agree with them!
@agentxyz- Good one LOL!
It tends to be the people of no faith, who are offended by or have disdain for, those with faith. Those are the people who tend to cause the violence.
Good comment. I think that if we focus on the positives here, and the positives of religion (because regardless of all the bad that has been done in the name of religion over the centuries, there is something good here), this is a great story.
If it heals you...go for it. If it doesn't, keep searching. In fact, keep searching anyway – because if you think you've found the penultimate answer today, you will find out eventually that the journey has just begun.
I replaced the word religion in your post with the word humanity and it read a little better.
"penultimate" means second to last (from poetry meter scanning) - it does not mean super-ultimate or some such, as you used it.
...just remember to marry rich and all your problems will disappear.
What a lovely story! They have a new profitable business that help millions by inspiring them and giving them hope. What could be better?
Great. Another dumb blond.
Wow..sounds like a lot of people are interested in God. That is wonderful! God is in control, and apparently He is so much in control that many emotions are being pulled by God, why else would all be reacting to this article.
EEK! Yanny, you've finally capitulated to your Personality Disorder by condemning (in your mind) everyone to the control of an external, mythical being. The stronger signs of your disorder are disturbing. If you need to control people, or see people controlled so deeply by an imagined force, then perhaps you should move to a theocratical nation, such as the Middle East.
Yes, we're all only commenting because god is making us do so like puppets. Out of curiosity, where was god when that poor boy was being crippled for life?
God damn it, yannaes, why can't you specify what god you are talking about when you post. Not all of us have equal powers and have to sort out who in hades you are rambling on about , be specific.
In years of posting to this blog full of presumably sensible, honest and "good'y Christians, I've never gotten an answer to this question.
"Please explain the parting of the red sea and the slaughter of 200,000 plus innocents in the last two tsunamis as the acts of a loving god."
Tony, you will not get an answer to your question from these christian sheeple. They just do what they are told. They do not think for themselves. Your wisdom will prevail in years to come and eventually as humanity grows, christianity will become another myth, just like the ancient religions before it.
Tony, Tony.Explain the zygote, explain the moon, explain why the sea horse carries the young, explain why science cannot reproduce the human brain, explain why Chairman Mao would murder millions of his own people, explain the laws of nature. Tony..Tony, please explain why Atheistic leaders committed genocide on their own people.. North Korea, Cambodia, China, Russia, etc..explain how the human psychological system works the way it does. Tony, when you can give me a rationale for all I have asked then I will reconsider my position..
yannaes, your type of faith based mentality makes me want to seriously hang myself.
Tony, Get off your high horse.
Well, Anon, i am sure that you must have many questions if someone like me create the level of thought you have just generated. I wish you would not hang yourself because of my faith, and if I have that much control over your level of thought, then you may have more questions about yourself, than of my faith.
yan – there is this interesting fallacy i see repeated regularly on these comment boards about atheist leaders killing millions of people. the rub is that those leaders probably personally killed no one. all those killed were victims of their own countrymen who used their leader as an excuse to do something they had obviously already wanted to do.
yannaes, for me your faith is akin to a mental disorder, sadly this is global and the only known cure is critical thinking through education.
Yes, Tony, you have infinite wisdom and taking it from the mortal that confirms your wisdom. He is so wise, why, he agrees with your position, now how wise is that?
So, then, you can't actually answer the question?
great....keep shoving religion down our throats...
You weren't required to read the article. Nobody is shoving religion down your throat.
This is not news and certainly does not belong on your "front page".
TOTALLY agree with TJC!
Bingo. There are a hundred random speaking tours with a thousand random speakers going around the country at any given time. Some football player's wife doing one of them is not a news-worthy story.
Now if she would just get some enlightenment, that would be real good.
Take note of her use of government assistance- FOOD STAMPS AND LOW INCOME HOUSING. Thank god those programs were there for her! Yes, we are all in this together!
Yes, we are! Forward TOGETHER!
she used the resources when she could-did not have 5 more kids and stay on welfare, and when she could pay it forward she did
THAT is how that govt system should work
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.