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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.

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.

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Faith Now • Sports

soundoff (1,652 Responses)
  1. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and lets them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago**; and that other things, like god, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Sometimes, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). Sometimes, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Religions are just big old evil clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division along the way (disguised as love).

    So instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    ** (yes, charlatan spam started long before the Bible; what would make you think it hadn't?)

    mama kindless

    September 15, 2012 at 12:16 pm |
  2. Jokesterer

    My fairy tales are better than your fairy tales. I have a Lombardi trophy and a hot wife to prove it.

    September 15, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  3. Askmehow

    THERE IS NO MANUAL FOR LIFE.

    People need to stop bsing No one is born with the bible or the koran attached to the umbilical cord.

    September 15, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  4. annieL

    Many (all?) people are hurting and hearing that they are not alone and that joy and peace are possible is a healing gift. Going somewhere you can openly cry, get a hug and feel better when you leave is even better.

    September 15, 2012 at 2:39 am |
  5. !!!!!!!!!

    Taken from the book; "Slavery, Terrorism and Islam: The Historical Roots and Contemporary Threat" of Dr. Peter Hammond

    As long as the Muslim population remains around or under 2% in any given country, they will for the most part be regarded as a "peace-loving" minority, and not as a threat to other citizens. This is the case in:
    the U.S. — 0.6%; Australia — 1.5%; Canada – 1.9%; China — 1.8%; Italy — 1.5%; Norway — 1.8%.

    At 2% – 5%, they begin to proselytize from other ethnic minorities and disaffected groups, often with major recruiting from the jails and among street gangs. This is happening in:
    Denmark — 2%; Germany — 3.7%; the UK — 2.7%; Spain — 4%; Thailand — 4.6%.

    From 5% +, they exercise an inordinate influence in proportion to their percentage of the population. For example, they will push for the introduction of halal (clean by Islamic standards) food, thereby securing food preparation jobs for Muslims. They will increase pressure on supermarket chains to feature halal on their shelves – along with threats for failure to comply. This is occurring in:
    France — 8%;Philippines — 5%; Sweden — 5%; Switzerland — 4.3%;The Netherlands — 5.5%; Trinidad & Tobago — 5.8%.

    At this point, they will work to get the ruling government to allow them to rule themselves (within their ghettos) under Sharia, the Islamic Law. The ultimate goal of Islamists is to establish Sharia law over the entire world.
    -------------------------------------------------
    When Muslims approach 10% + of the population, they tend to increase lawlessness as a means of complaint about their conditions. In Paris, we are already seeing car-burnings. Any non-Muslim action offends Islam, and results in uprisings and threats, such as in Amsterdam, with opposition to Mohammed cartoons and films about Islam. Such tensions are seen daily, particularly in Muslim sections in:
    Guyana — 10%;India — 13.4%;Israel — 16%;Kenya — 10%;Russia — 15%.

    After reaching 20% +, nations can expect hair-trigger rioting, jihad militia formations, sporadic killings, and the burnings of Christian churches and Jewish synagogues, such as in:
    Ethiopia — 32.8%.

    At 40% +, nations experience widespread massacres, chronic terror attacks, and ongoing militia warfare, such as in:
    Bosnia — 40%;Chad — 53.1%;Lebanon — 59.7%.

    From 60% +, nations experience unfettered persecution of non-believers of all other religions (including non-conforming Muslims), sporadic ethnic cleansing (genocide), use of Sharia Law as a weapon, and Jizya, the tax placed on infidels, such as in:
    Albania — 70%;Malaysia — 60.4%;Qatar — 77.5%;Sudan — 70%.

    After 80% +, expect daily intimidation and violent jihad, some State-run ethnic cleansing, and even some genocide, as these nations drive out the infidels, and move toward 100% Muslim, such as has been experienced and in some ways is on-going in:
    Bangladesh — 83%;Egypt — 90%;Gaza — 98.7%;Indonesia — 86.1%;Iran — 98%;Iraq — 97%;Jordan — 92%;Morocco — 98.7%;Pakistan — 97%;Palestine — 99%;Syria — 90%;Tajikistan — 90%;Turkey — 99.8%;UAE — 96%.

    100% will usher in the peace of ‘Dar-es-Salaam’ — the Islamic House of Peace. Here there’s supposed to be peace, because everybody is a Muslim, the Madrasses are the only schools, and Quran is the only word, such as in:
    Afghanistan — 100%;Saudi Arabia — 100%;Somalia — 100%;Yemen — 100%.

    Unfortunately, peace is never achieved, as in these 100% Muslim states the most radical Muslims intimidate and spew hatred, and satisfy their blood lust by killing less radical Muslims, for a variety of reasons.
    .

    September 15, 2012 at 12:12 am |
    • The Right Left

      All relgions persecute those who dont follow their dogma. Christians have historically persecuted Jews based on their faith.
      Intra Christian warfare was common even as late as the Irish civil war. The Jews are now persecuting Arabs based on religious faith. The Arabs with Mulims majority are the worst without a doubt. Your argument is one sided and unfair.

      As an athiest, my position is that relgions are evil by modern standards. Mankind one day will get out of this blood sport.

      September 15, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  6. John David

    I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father, but by Me. ....Jesus Jn. 14:6

    September 14, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • sam stone

      Iron Age hearsay, translated and edited throughout hundreds (if not thousands) of years, across different cultures – Me 1:1

      September 17, 2012 at 8:51 am |
  7. Boomer

    What a shock, another person with money trying to make more money. Love how Christianity has become such a big business.

    September 14, 2012 at 8:04 pm |
  8. Atheism is Great for Kids and Grown-Ups Too!

    It's really best for all people including children to have an agnostic approach to god, and an atheistic approach to all religion. It keeps things simple for kids, and let's them be all that they can be. They just need to be taught that some things, like all religion, were just made up by salesmen and politicians from long ago**; and that other things, like god, we really don't know a damn thing about.

    Atheists have strong minds and don't need a religion. Sometimes, religious folk run and hide their misdeeds within their religion (and by doing so, they disserve society). Sometimes, religious folk are easily offended when someone mocks their make-believe characters – and, as we can see they can get really CRAZY!

    Religions are just big old evil clubs – each trying to out do each other and inspiring hate and division along the way (disguised as love).

    So instead of praying to make-believe people, get a good cup of tea and go on and sit down and collect your damn thoughts. My goodness.

    ** (yes, charlatan spam started long before the Bible; what would make your think it hadn't?)

    mama kindless

    September 14, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  9. mommaTang

    This is a great story. Some people have negative comments but if they read the whole story to the end, and still could not understand how this incredible woman could still say "God loves me" well I don't blame them! It is difficult to imagine how so many tragic things could happen to someone's life, how could God possibly allow it happen. However you will see that some of these are the mistakes of Man (two for three. Tornado, well that was an "act of God" according to the insurance adjusters). Her faith pulled her through! And to the critics, well too bad you haven't let God change you or bless you yet, but that is your free choice.

    September 14, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • mzh

      God loves every single human regardless of faiths... even someone does not believe in HIM.... giving wealth and not giving wealth or children – both are being tested in this life.... getting richer does not mean God is happy with me and getting poorer also does not mean that God is angry with me... its upto me whether I am trusting on God or trusting on fales dieties... as korah and ferroh in bible and in quran as well, were given huge wealth and they transgressed themselves and we all know what happened to them... on the other hand Solomon was given huge wealth but what he said... he said all these are the bounties of Almighty.... you see the difference... we wouldn't know the difference in this life but definitely in the next life... but there will be no coming back and ractify and go back... you do as much as you can in this life before it ends... there will be a group of human will be wishing to dust as dust will not be held accountable but human as quran teaches...

      So be aware of everything would help....

      Peace!!!

      September 14, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • Mad Cow

      The Flying Spaghetti Monster loves you.

      September 15, 2012 at 2:50 am |
  10. tony

    Two more rich liars. And getting richer because of their lies.

    September 14, 2012 at 10:24 am |
  11. Newton

    these guys make me feel great because of their integrity
    http://newchristianad.blogspot.com/

    September 14, 2012 at 6:27 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      @ Newton, where do you get the idea that Brenda and her husband have integrity? Did you just pull that out of your a**?

      September 14, 2012 at 9:57 am |
  12. PAUL

    September 14, 2012 at 6:00 am |
  13. Marzz

    Truth about Christianity

    September 13, 2012 at 11:07 pm |
  14. Peter Grenader

    It's great that she's connecting with people, but if that's it – her 'story' isn't exactly the makings of Anne Frank mark II. As long as these aren't the next two evangelicals to publicly forecast 1,000 years of darkness if their guy isn't elected – I've got no beef whatsoever.

    September 13, 2012 at 4:15 pm |
  15. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    I am a lyer. Prayer hasn't changed me. I'm crazy.

    September 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm |
    • Dippy

      "liar", not "lyer".

      September 14, 2012 at 6:37 pm |
  16. saggyroy

    Christ-dashian Famous more like it....

    September 12, 2012 at 9:42 pm |
  17. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things .

    September 12, 2012 at 8:20 pm |
    • hal 9000

      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

      September 12, 2012 at 9:24 pm |
  18. Corkpuller

    Then there are the Basketball Wives for those of you who think that this is in anyway wrong.

    September 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
  19. Darrin Gray

    Great to see NFL wives using their own jersey to make a positive impact on people!

    @JerseyEffect

    September 12, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  20. Luke

    Great article! In a world full of pretenders and hypocrites, these guys are the real deal.

    September 12, 2012 at 11:21 am |
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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.