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.
Top Ten Signs You're a Christian
10 – You vigorously deny the existence of thousands of gods claimed by other religions, but feel outraged when someone denies the existence of yours.
9 – You feel insulted and "dehumanized" when scientists say that people evolved from other life forms, but you have no problem with the Biblical claim that we were created from dirt.
8 – You laugh at polytheists, but you have no problem believing in a Triune God.
7 – Your face turns purple when you hear of the "atrocities" attributed to Allah, but you don't even flinch when hearing about how God/Jehovah slaughtered all the babies of Egypt in "Exodus" and ordered the elimination of entire ethnic groups in "Joshua" including women, children, and trees!
6 – You laugh at Hindu beliefs that deify humans, and Greek claims about gods sleeping with women, but you have no problem believing that the Holy Spirit impregnated Mary, who then gave birth to a man-god who got killed, came back to life and then ascended into the sky.
5 – You are willing to spend your life looking for little loopholes in the scientifically established age of Earth (few billion years), but you find nothing wrong with believing dates recorded by Bronze Age tribesmen sitting in their tents and guessing that Earth is a few generations old.
4 – You believe that the entire population of this planet with the exception of those who share your beliefs – though excluding those in all rival sects – will spend Eternity in an infinite Hell of Suffering. And yet consider your religion the most "tolerant" and "loving."
3 – While modern science, history, geology, biology, and physics have failed to convince you otherwise, some idiot rolling around on the floor speaking in "tongues" may be all the evidence you need to "prove" Christianity.
2 – You define 0.01% as a "high success rate" when it comes to answered prayers. You consider that to be evidence that prayer works. And you think that the remaining 99.99% FAILURE was simply the will of God.
1 – You actually know a lot less than many atheists and agnostics do about the Bible, Christianity, and church history – but still call yourself a Christian.
There are many advantages to believing in the One True God and our savior his only begotten son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Perfect and thanks for sharing.
Toad, how dare you defy the true god, The Flying Spaghetti Monster (Tastiness Be Upon Him)! You should bow down before his noodly appendage!!!
toad: How are you so certain it is the one true god? Many other gos existed before and many will exist long after and for each god, it will be thought of as being the one true god. The sooner all gods are left out of this world, the better society will be!
My goodness, you do have quite a list! You certainly have a zeal, of which I appreciate. I have no hostility towards anyone. My faith is not predicated on what someone else might or might not believe, but I am sure with your gross generalizations you feel better about yourself, and of course, that is all that really matters. Right?
Jesus wants us to F hot women.
Jesus wants you to die.
Ole jeebers never existed. But I like jokesters idea better
Not really when you come to realize that the vast majority like these women in the audience need someone to do their thinking for them.That is why the vast majority view life through a wedding ring and really believe in the concept of "Marrying Up" They find it easier to believe in an external force (Their version of God or a husband/bread winner/ good provider.Therefore they don't have to do it for themselves. Poor God gets blamed for everything anyway................BUT if you can believe and need this lie then go for it. I personally feel sorry for your sorry shallow lives. The myth that being a stay at home mom is difficult is nonsense. I have been a stay at home dad and it's not that difficult. Cleaning and taking care of kids. Poo it's easy. This is not the 1950s after all yet these woman seem to think it is
I know what you mean Grahame. Women are just so fucking lazy. All you really expect from them is some basic housekeeping and participation in some reasonably interesting sex with you and maybe a friend or two. In return you have to listen to an endless stream of bullshit on how their day went etc. It makes me want to defecate.
Toad, and Ex Lax pie makes me want to do that too.
During one of my very busy nights in the ER I met a woman who was truly down to earth and very pleasant. We talked about the fact that she has all these kids and how she copes with this and what joy it has brought to her life; no mention of God. It made my long night seeing patients so much better. It was only after she had left that the nurses told me who she was. I have to say she truly comes across as a very caring and real person. I wish we had more people like her in this world.
Not a bible beater, but having an autistic son, I looked past the speech summary which didn't seem to mention Jesus or God but that she has overcome great obstacles, and saw to the admirable work they are doing. Building housing for developmentally delayed or handicapped children who are older is an awesome thing and much needed. Honestly, I could probably care less if devil worshippers were building it. I admire the end result personally.
One must stand in wonder of this miracle of life in all its miraculousness and wonder deeply about the idea of a Benevolent Creator. We are thrown into this life, live it, then quickly are thrown out of it in death and all the while going through it are subject to its blessings, injustices, and miracles.
Religion and faith is a powerful force within us....that must not be denied. Our lives are not merely scientific or rational and as much as religion and faith is an answer is a response to a world that has become mechanistic, robotic and devoid of happiness and purpose.
Contrary to what you like to believe, neither religion nor faith, of a Christian flavor or otherwise, is required in order to live a fulfilling life. As an atheist Air Force officer deployed to Afghanistan and loving every minute of everything I do, from my personal life to my military career, both here and before I left, I STRONGLY beg to differ with your assessment that religion can't be denied.
Mark, life can be fun and beautiful and meaningful and awe inspiring without believing in an invisible man in the sky. Also, it seems that if you don't believe in an afterlife, then that would make this short life we have even more precious.
I have a very happy and fulfilling life with my atheist husband. Our children are happy, successful and emotionally healthy with no god of any kind. I love my one finite life and being grounded in reality.
thank you for allowing God to use you!! Your storyhas put me into tears today, so thank our life is a story in itself. Testimony.
Thankyou for helping renewing my faith in God.
Frankly, I find her story ho-hum. There are many stories of others with far greater tragedies that have struggled, coped and succeeded without religion. But then their story wouldn't be filled with fantasy and Disney-like make believe
You are an easily manipulated person if this "story" had any kind of life changing impact on you.
Yeah, it sure was great of god to show how much he appreciated her love by hurting her and her child. What a crock. When are the idiots going to wake up and smell the xtian money machine?
Michele- God hurt her and her child??! Really? God isn't stringing all the events of our lives as though we are marionette puppets! He allows life to happen and doesn't promise to give people a Disney ending or place a force field around them if they believe in Him. What He does promise is to love those who believe in Him, be with them through tough times and prepare a place for them in Heaven someday, when this short time on earth is done.
You're right MIchele. Christians have forked tongues in case you didn't notice. A few minutes later for a different purpose, this "John" or someone else will tell you the opposite.
Wow, after reading that story how can anyone post negative comments like the ones before me. I personally have come to doubt the existance of God here recently but the way I look at it is, whatever makes you a better person and happy in this life why mock it or doubt it. So what if God isnt real, the Warners are still using that faith to do good things that would not have been done without their faith. Everyone just needs to relax and let a little love in your heart. If everyone did one good deed for one person just once a day, this whole world could change for the better very quickly.
Ron: I agree with you that everyone should do good deeds to others. No doubt. But one should not do it for any other reason other than their well-meaning intent for their fellow humans. The problem is evangelicals of all religions twist people into believing in fantasy for their own personal gain. Not to mention it is wrong to have people believe in pure and utter works of fiction.
Good can and is done without the influence of a deity. If a person wants/needs a deity within him or herself, well then, fine. But that belief should stay personal, that religion should remain private. The moment it is thrust into the public sphere, it better be ready to face the scepticism that everything else in the public sphere is subject to.
Sorry, meant Rob, spelt Ron. Big thumbs on my iPad. :)
Rob, I'm glad that you have been putting thought into this to the point where you are doubting the existence of god. As you continue to think on this, you will come to realize what a destructive force religion has become and how it is affecting all of us in detrimental ways as it leaches into politics. Religion is not only being used to manipulate people into voting against their own self interests, but is also destructive on a personal level, as it causes people to reject legitimate trains of thought that conflict with their belief system and keeps them from being grounded in reality and thus emotionally healthy.
I would have hoped she is championing the rights of divorced mothers on welfare and food stamps, obviously this program (provided by god of course not tax payers) made her the god queen she is today.. christians are such a selfish lot.. i'd have some respect for her if instead of out there 'talkin' she was out there 'doin' with low/poor income people.. working with other children out there that are brain damaged, but NOOOOOO she is out there 'yakkin' to a bunch of middle class women about god and the glory.. stupidity is so alive in well in the US it is frankly scary.
Sounds like Kate is just telling it like it is. What's bitter about that?!?!?!
She's a Republican. She's not going to champion people on welfare or food stamps.
What a great story! Thanks for sharing it.
"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."
"True" christians don't have or want "fans". "Supporters" is a better word.
Worshipping her for the goddess that she is. She is favored by god. Oh, except for that baby dropping incident. Oh, and that husband infidelity incident. Oh, and that tornado "wiped out my family" incident. Other than that, god favours her.
I'm glad that the government provided her with low income housing and food stamps when she and her child really needed help.
It wasn't the government. It was God. Way to go, God!
Yes, well said.
It never fails. Someone who are eloquent speakers will be worshipped as god like. The same is true for Jesus, The Prophet Mohammad, and Ghandi. Look at Joel Epstein, he knows its all hogwash but it brings home $$millions so why not act like you really believe it, LOL.
Using God to make money....shame on her.
Every religious group uses their imaginary friend god to make money...it's what these mega churches and more specifically the Catholic cult of pedophiles is about.
I'm glad to be alive to witness ALL of what's happening to change and affect the state of religious belief.
It's coming. It's all happening so fast. Most of it will be hidden from you at first.
While I don't advocate removal of religion, I'm quite pleased to see it dying on its own, unable to keep up with the simplicity and veracity of science, analysis and critical thinking. The human race will be better off when religion finally dies.
Sorry, @nope, but that's simply the reality of the situation. Religion is losing adherents, a continuous hemorrhaging of followers that will only accelerate over the coming decades.
Tammy Faye II...
The field is getting too crowded – some need to retire. The cash just won't go around.
So she went from pointless fame to.......pointless fame. Congrats?
That is hurtful and creepy.
Prayer changes things
Pray does change everything.
Im sure It's the only time you have direct communication with God that is not manipulated by some, selfserving,greedy, human middle-man.
Atheism is simply the result of questioning everything, a mindset that is most certainly healthy for children. Religion is the result of forcefeeding children insufficient answers to those questions and preventing them from challenging those answers.
Thank you for that wonderfully verbose and well thought out counterpoint to my point. Without eloquent people such as yourself, I don't know what we would do.
You are just wrong what more needed to be said?
What EXACTLY is wrong about my statement?
Blarg: Ignore these idiots...they can't see how wrong they are. I'm guessing they are only hearing what is preached from the pews and never have read the buybulll or they'd be full-Atheists also (they are Atheists to a point whether they agree or not). 'Nope' is simply a dope...not capable of coming up with anything other than simple words but simple words for simple minds.
nope to nope
truth be told wrote: "You are just wrong what more needed to be said?"
I think I smell a disgruntled ex Evangelical Fortune Cookie Co. writer!
Prayer does not change things, according to double blind studies. Prayer makes you feel better, but it has no measurable impact on outcomes. (i.e. a person being prayed for is no more likely to get better than someone who is not.)
If prayer worked, prayerful people would experience less disease, obesity, divorce, teen pregnancy, unemployment, kids on drugs, etc, and yet they do not. As a matter of fact, some of these unhappy facts of life are more prevalent in more religious states. What's up with that??
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.