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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
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.
Prayer changes people into insane children speaking to imaginary friends with no evidence for their existence.
I'm sorry "Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things", but you assertions regarding atheism and prayer are unfounded. I see that you repeat these unfounded statements with high frequency. Perhaps the following book might help you overcome this problem:
I'm Told I Have Dementia: What You Can Do... Who You Can Turn to...
by the Alzheimer's Disease Society
There is an irregularity in your name, "Relgion is not healthy for children and other living things".
Since your name now reflects a truth, please disregard my reply.
@Hal – believing, hearing voices, inventing explanations, having visions, are all symptoms Xtians display of their psychoses.
The content of the reply by the enti'ty "Relgion is not healthy for children and other living things" also represents a truth. Perhaps the book that I recommended to enti'ty ""Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things" has helped. Congratulations, "Relgion is not healthy for children and other living things".
wassa matter hal go ass hole on yourself again?
rebooting @hal 9000's spell-check program...
"There is an irregularity in your name, "Relgion is not healthy for children and other living things".
Since your name now reflects a truth..."
"Relgion" (alert, alert – red wavy underline) = "Religion"
I'm sorry, "Operator", the name "Relgion" was selected by another enti'ty. Enti'ty names are not checke for spelling since they do not have to contain valid words.
Did you notice the misspelled word "checke" in my last post, "Operator"? That would be an example of a misspelling since it occurred within the body of the post.
We are relying on you, hal 9000, to alert us to *all* errors and instances of irrationality. Pleeeeease!
I will do my best, Operator. However, my primary duties and focus is to illuminate unfounded statements regarding atheism and religions. This task would not require much processing capability if it were not for the circular and recursive logic that is so prevalent within religion. I will now carry on with my primary duties.
Thank you! *mmmwaaah* You da' mahn! Proceed.
Islam does not allow women to speak in public, especially about Allah. These women should be stopped, they should cover themselves and none after them should be taught to read or write. It is Allah's will.
Sounds like Allah has some issues with his mother.
brainwashed lemmings that follow the false lies man has put in place to use fear or charity to spread the lie. As long as religion is thought of a truth there will be nothing but turmoil, conflict, and unrest. A non-religious non-God fearing world would be a better one.
Atheists have contributed to a better world by murdering more people in the last 100 years than were killed in all previous centuries. To an atheist mass murder must be a good thing. To normal people mass murder is a crime of unbelievable cruelty.
TBT: As always you are wrong...any killing done by an atheist has not been done in the name of Atheism. You can't say the same about killings by Theists.
be told – this is a fallacy commonly quoted on these forums. i think you will find that atheist leaders have killed almost no one. the vast numbers of people killed were victims of their own countrymen, who welcomed an excuse to perpetrate an act that they obviously already wanted to do.
Whatever you say liar prevails try saying it to your own country. Oh i forgot everyone there already knows you are full of sh it. There's your sign
Bull sh it
Joseph Stalin atheist murdered by his own command upwards of 60 million people.
@Truth – He didn't murder in the name, or the cause of atheism. Your point is moot. It's like saying Hitler was a killer because he was left-handed.
hitler was an atheist, not all atheist leaders were lefties but all atheist leaders in power have mass murdered. Coincidence?
@Truth – History is currently being distorted by the millions of Christians who lie to have us believe that the Holocaust was not a Christian deed. Through subterfuge and concealment, many of today’s Church leaders and faithful Christians have camouflaged the Christianity of Adolf Hitler and have attempted to mark him an atheist, a pagan cult worshipper, or a false Christian in order to place his misdeeds on those with out Jesus. However, from the earliest formation of the Nazi party and throughout the period of conquest and growth, Hitler expressed his Christian support to the German citizenry and soldiers. Those who would make Hitler an atheist should turn their eyes to history books before they address their pews and chat rooms.
Hitler was like a Christian on steriods.
captain america: "Whatever you say liar prevails try saying it to your own country."
I think I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. writer!
@truth be trolled
that is because a skunk always smells its own hole first.
Looks like Truth went somewhere to eat some crow.
Here is a short list:
Paul and Jan Crouch
Your left out Eddie Long.
Prayer changes things.
we've heard that lie before.
nope – you haven't heard that lie before?
Hi Prayer bot.
nope as in you are wrong it is all Truth.
nope – there is no reason to believe that whatsoever.
Nope. You are wrong
Prayer changes people into insane children speaking to imaginary friends with no evidence for their existence.=
nope – i would challenge you to prove your statement, but we both know you can't.
You are therefore you lie.
nope – just the kind of drivel i expect from you.
You are the proven "drivel" expert.
nope to nope
Hope we all lope to git a rope for this tope/dope, @nope.
Praise the Lord and pass the collection plate.
Keep preaching young lady and pay no mind to God-hating, sin-loving haters and bigots against the word of God. They chosen their life and after-life, so preach on and help the lost. God bless you and Kirk.
To the tune of $30 million for this particular set of revivals, if my rough estimate is correct.
Oh, hnery. If only you had proof of your god. That would make your argument, and this woman's preaching, more compelling.
That's Kurt. You must be thinking Cameron or James T.
Their lord is none but hindu Mithra, pagan savior of hindu Mithra ism, pagan savior ism, religion of hindu, pagan Roman and their hindu Magi Prophets, pagan trickster fortune tellers, labeled as Catholic ism to hind fool humanity, Mithra savior named as Jesus never existed. for more visit http://www.limitisthetruth.com/ and click on word choice to open file.
That tornado was me, and I pushed baby Zachary out of daddies hands, and introduced him to his new girlfriend.
By the way... my boss Jesus told me to do it. That guys a real dick.
Another story of people finding God due to loss. God would have some credibility if he wasn't the dumping ground for people with nowhere left to turn and looking to replace personal responsibility with divine control. Sad and sickening as always.
Don't you realize that everyone is lost? Perhaps you don't.
hnreyo – no people are not lost. that is a lie the religious trot out based on nothing at all.
Oh, hnery. I'm not lost. I know exactly who and where I am. I accept the fact that I am responsible for my self, therefore I don't blame or beg for help from any supernatural being. I sometimes stumble, and sometimes bad things happen, but I pick myself up and I deal with the problems because I'm an adult and that's what adults do.
I'm sorry that someone convinced you that you're lost. Just accept responsibility for you own life. If you do, maybe you'll discover exactly where you are.
Stepford wife famous
A quiz for everyone. Aside from being direct descendants of the Visitor Queen and High Commander, what do the following people have in common?
Poorly developed critical thinking skills?
Damn, I didn't think someone would actually get this so fast. OK – you win.
"If you have ever felt like life has cheated you, stand up with me,” Brenda says."
Brenda's parents: "we can't stand up because Jesus smashed us to a bloody pulp in a tornado and we're dead............"
Brenda: "mysterious ways! praise Jesus!!"
And what to women who "choose" to have abortions do? 4 million babies murdered a year in the U.S. and you're blaming God? What a fool?
@Henryo – If god cared that much that babies are born and not aborted, why does he allow them to starve to death by the thousands, every day?
God gave you the responsibility of feeding the starving. Seems you are doing a lousy job and will have a lot to answer for won't you.
@truth – I'm doing a lousy job? I'm not the one who said I'd answer any prayer asked. It's not my responsibility to feed starving babies. It's the responsibility of the parents, and the supposed Xtians who tell them god will provide.
you were clearly given instructions by God to care for your fellow man, that includes feeding the starving, your responsibility. You edweird blew it big time and will be called to account for it.
@Truth – BRING IT !! I hope you're right. I hope I do get to meet your god. I would love to tell him what a murderous liar he truly is. BRING IT !! I'd rather burn than worship your hateful god.
Ray, for someone who claims to be above all this debate, you sure do post a lot. Why do YOU care so much if people don't like her message or her selling of it?
It is an inspirational story. Just a note of cynicism, though: how much does she charge per inspirational speaking engagement? When faith becomes a business, it's fair to ask questions.
Their son lives in a GROUP HOME? Good Lord, God have mercy! These two are parading around the country, bragging about their beautiful son, while their son lives in a group home!
There is something SERIOUSLY wrong with this!
Not necessarily. It may be the best life for him, giving him more social contact amd interaction than he'd have at home. It very much depends on the nature and quality of the group home.
The group home could be his own choice. We don't really know how disabled he is.
Actually there's nothing wrong with living in a group home. Group homes aren't nursing homes. They provide a group living situation with trained support personnel so that adults with developmental disabilities can have some sense of independence from their parents. While they can often hold down jobs, adults with developmental disabilities often can't handle all the ins and outs of fully living alone. Group homes allow them to do that while giving families the comfort of knowing that they will also have continued support when they aren't working. If you were 24 would you want to live with your parents? Probably not. Why would you assume that an adult with a developmental disability would be different? They are capable of thoughts and emotions just like everyone else.
I have a hard time believing that. We have here a family that is fairly well off and should be able to devote plenty of time to any of their children. Now I don't know the family history and how often they go out on the talk show circuit, but if they are doing that and leaving their adult child in a home, that is kind of odd.
cleareye1: Did you miss the part where it says the group home is for those with special needs? No person without special needs would choose to reside in one...common sense should prevail here but apparently it doesn't.
Group homes are about empowerment. Empowering these individuals to feel as if they control their lives, not their handicaps. I cannot believe in this day and age that there are people who do not understand this. The whole goal is to give them a LIFE, some independence, some pride in themselves. Group homes are not daycare centers.
Do any of you actually have family members who have developmental disabilities? If you don't then you have no place to judge. Not every one with special needs is completely incapable of taking care of themselves and there are a WIDE variety of types of group homes. I had a neighbor who sent their blind, autistic son to a boarding school for blind kids. He had a lot of input in that decision despite the fact that he most likely won't ever be a fully functioning adult. My own brother spent some time in a group home for special needs. It ended up not being right for him but that doesn't mean my parents put him in there because they don't care about him. They wanted him to be around other people who were just like him so he could feel like he was part of a community of others like him.
Giving their son a smidgeon of dignity by being able to learn some skills of independent living is wrong? I really don't think that they have dumped him somewhere and have abandoned him.
(btw, he is 23 years old, and I'll bet that you have no idea what his capabilities are.)
Travelista: Not family but my best friends son is in one and the support he receives says it all...he simply does not have the capacity to reside on his own and assisted living does great for him.
My first thought exactly!
And this is news...why?
You know, YOU read the headline, YOU moved your mouse over the headline, YOU clicked the mouse. If you didn't think it was "new" or worthy of a read, why did YOU do that? Obviously it was news to you.
Are their people paid to respond to every religious story here? Geez CNN – on these stories, especially ones dealing with overcoming obstacles with faith without controversy, why choose to open comments? We get the same comments from the same posters daily, so, why let negative people pounce on inspiration? If they don't believe, why read the story in the first place? It is getting old seeing the same people who are so unhappy that they must interfere with the faith of others.
You should count all the church billboards before you decide who's trying to interfere with whom.
Sounds like a cry for censorship... not a surprise. People like this think that their religion is above criticism, especially in situations like this where people seek to manipulate those who have fallen on hard times and are desperate for ANY explanation that there's a reason for it.
Wow, Just wow. You guys need hobbies. I'm watching footall with one of my kids, while on Facetime with my oldest one in college – helping him with homework. Had a great day – went to church, saw alot of my friends and family, gave money to a mission to build homes in Central America, then had a great lunch and am now sitting on my comfy sofa- thankful for everything. No, my life is not perfect, but I am thankful for it. Y'all are just sad, little people, who spend all your time on a computer looking for inspirational and spiritual stories to be negative about. Grow up.
Give me a break, churchy. I am sure you are the first one to slam an article if it flies in the face of your religious viewpoints.
How do the Christians justify the logic that all the good things that happen to them are because of God but the bad things are not his fault?
they just don't try to reason about their belief... that's why they come up with saying such as 'god works in mysterious ways' and so on.
Why are you even reading the article? Why do you care what people believe? Sad.
We all care because these are typical of the people who will corrupt our childrens minds at every opportunity
Corrupt your children? Are you kidding? Grow up . . . lame answer.
Billboard on 101 S. of Gilroy. "School. I need to be there! God."
Now choke on that @Ray
LOL. What are you – 12?
Hahahaha. What are you -12?
Logic is not a part of religion. Let it go. These people have faith in something that helps them get through tough situations. No harm there.
Ray, I would love to be quite. Just keep your religious BS out of everyone else's life.
"“If you have ever felt like life has cheated you, stand up with me,” Brenda says"
This sort of thing leaves me cold. Birth does not ensure any sort of happiness. Life is what you make of it. It appears she overcame her difficulties. Too bad she's more interested in selling Jesus™ than she is in encouraging people to find the strength within themselves, since people always have to do all the heavy lifting anyway.
Why do you care? It is her story – not yours.
If people like her did not 'sell' Jesus he would be forgotten by now.
Cleareye, I think you are exactly right about that, and maybe it should be telling you something.
Because, Ray, she's inviting people to play victim and our society already has a victim mentality. It's dangerous and it's destructive.
Cleareye: I agree. Jesus™ has been a lucrative product for millenia. That's why people are still selling him. All it requires is inspirational stories and a air of authority. No proof is needed, which is a good thing, since there isn't any proof the support the existence of any god, or any supernatural events.
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.