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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 • Sports

soundoff (1,654 Responses)
  1. The Analyst

    Abracadabra! Watch me pull a jeebus out of my hat!

    September 9, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  2. Martin

    Why is it these uber-religious folks make me want to puke? Oh, I know why-because they're nauseating!

    September 9, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • old ben

      Bernie Madoff made people puke. This woman can be up front with her deception because it actually what the lemmings want to hear.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:40 am |
    • yannaes

      Why should they bother you emotionally. If you do not want anything to do with religion, then just ignore. Simple solution and no puking necessary.

      September 9, 2012 at 7:33 pm |
  3. Blarg

    I do like how they have "Christian Famous" in quotes, which is accurate, because being "Christian Famous" is ultimately quite useless.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:17 am |
  4. ty

    making $$$ off Jesus. you take one part pretty woman an done part american sports hero and presto you got new job making big monety...it sooo american..now go to chck fil a and eat your lil ole breakfast with sausage and ignore that the bible tell us not to eat pork...cause the pars of the bible you want to ignore you can and the parts you want to against anyone you can because you are a good chiristain woman!

    September 9, 2012 at 8:16 am |
  5. Sue

    7 KIDS!! She's doing her part to TRIPLE the world's population!! Why do these bible thumpers not give a #%*# about this earth they believe their god created?

    September 9, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • Blarg

      Because they think it won't be destroyed by anything WE do, it will be destroyed when their deity decides to.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:18 am |
    • John

      Yeah, forced abortion should be the law of the land! One child per family. After all, "pro-choice" is only valid when you choose to abort to keep the population down. I always did think pro-choice was not about choice at all, but just about population control.

      September 10, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
  6. Jstsaying

    Brenda Warner is an evangelical millionaire just like Jim and Tammy Baker. These speaking engagements are paying her over 5000.00 to 10,000 dollars an event, excluding expenses and then, the vendor sales for her books, tapes, tee shirts. I had the unfortunate expericence of attending one of these because I thought I was going to see Zig Ziglar. The entire program was touting an 800.00 to 1500.00 comprehensive guide to life as you were funneled out a door bombarded by heavy sales hitters and for the easily swayed, they literally shear the sheep as they exit the auditorium.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:14 am |
    • shuzhu

      It really makes me laugh that whenever the subject of religion in any form is brought up, how quickly people resort to the money issue. People seem to think that somehow churches are to survive in and of themselves and provide comfort and spiritual support without ever asking for a dime in return. As a hospital chaplain I see this every day. Patients tell me that they no longer go to church because "all they do is ask for money". Well, so do we all my friend. You do every day you go to work. You provide a good service for your company and you expect a paycheck at the end of the week. Is it wrong for you to do so? No, of course not. The fact of the matter is that the majority of these people are doing absolutely no harm to anyone. Much to the contrary, they are helping people get their lives back on track.

      When we talk about the "big money" that these people make and rake in, we tend to forget about those millions that the sports players make every year and yet we don't say a word about that, nor do we stop going to the games. I am sure you don't think twice when you plunk down your $100 to sit for 3 hours at a football game do you? Granted, there are some that do abuse the system in religion just like they do at our jobs, in sports, etc.

      Mrs. Warner is bringing hope, love, compassion and healing to many women. What have you done this week for others?

      September 9, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Aren't America and Free Enterprise great? People get to take advantage of others more ignorant than themselves...

      September 9, 2012 at 8:43 am |
  7. rjbuchanan

    What a great story and inspiration for those going through difficult times. It is wonderful to have people live out their simple faith and trust in Jesus Christ and be as open and authentic as they are. Thanks for posting articles like these.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • old ben

      Authentic? Really? Maybe as authentic as Bernie Madoff.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:37 am |
  8. Carole McDermond

    So important not to judge people when they are following their heart and worshiping God in their way.
    I believe that we will be judged on love; love of God and loving our neighbor as ourself for the love of God.
    I think we were told when we first cast out the beam from our own eye then we may take out the splinter
    from our neighbors. There is an innate law written in our heart so that we know when we do wrong even
    if society says it is OK. The law is there to show us the way to peace;for ourself and others.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:10 am |
    • Kate

      Why? why is it so important? Republicans judge people all the time, seriously, no abortion, plenty of guns.. I judge them to be war mongering, evil doers and I would be happy to tell god this, matter of fact if the super fly guy is listening, he ALREADY knows what I think and since I am MADE in the image of god, then god thinks this also, it's always so very simple in the taliban christian world. No doubt.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:13 am |
    • ron

      The law seems to be there to lighten your wallet.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  9. Tombstone

    My god's better than your god.........

    September 9, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  10. john

    Faith is a key, but getting public ayyention is not the way to go. Those that have a lot of faith I have seen over the years. Help their neighbor without fanfare. Pray alone or with others, but not so you can be seen. There ae millions of good people regardless of their relligion or no organized religion.

    September 9, 2012 at 8:00 am |
  11. ohreally

    The attention who re found a new venue. Yea for her.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:58 am |
  12. topperG

    Who cares and why is this even a story on CNN...there has to be something for relevant...

    September 9, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • crazyvermont

      Guess being a drugged out pop star is relevant......thank goodness for some ladies speaking out for morals, values, and yes, faith.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • bob tower

      I believe when you die, you will face judgement. I personally believe that judge is Jesus Christ. We are all sinners. We all need to repent. I worry for people like topperG.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:24 am |
  13. Jesus is real

    Great read, But wrong place to put it up!!!! Wayyyy to many non believers and haters on this feed.. Bible cleary says you reap what you sow, so i sujest you keep blasphemy off your tongue. To God be the glory!!!

    September 9, 2012 at 7:57 am |
    • topperG

      If you beleive in the Bible////

      September 9, 2012 at 7:58 am |
    • Rob

      The way I see it, this is a news website, not a "how to supposedly be a better person" site. This just doesn't belong on the front page as a big deal story. At all.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:04 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Which "God" did you have in mind? There have been so many, and it's hard to distinguish between them...

      September 9, 2012 at 8:07 am |
    • Just a John

      @Jesus is real, of course, all you have to do is visit the island of Hispaniola, thousands of real jesus' wandering the streets but a lot of them curse like drunken sailors, you may want to give it a pass. The only reason why this story is relevant today is the start of sunday NFL football and someone figured this would be a good color piece, fail.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:12 am |
    • SafeNHisGrace

      I have to agree with you...too many haters here!

      September 9, 2012 at 8:22 am |
    • Jesus is real

      Look guys it's a great inspirational read. The front page is flooded with so much negative crap all the time it's about time we get something not dividing nor hating on one another (hate still tries to find its way in even on a great story)!!! I loved it!!! I am so happy for the Warner family. Are you??

      September 9, 2012 at 8:23 am |
    • Christine

      The Bible clearly says a lot of crap. It says incest is wrong, being gay is wrong. Think about this: Adam and Eve were the first people God created and they gave birth to two sons. Out of those four people on this Earth, how did they go on to create a population? That's just one I'll throw out at ya. By the way, I'm curious what is it that you've sown? What became of the reap?

      September 9, 2012 at 8:27 am |
    • CJ Hardin

      Actually, this is a great place for this story to be shown. It allows people to see the greed of religion and how the believers of these religions get fleeced. Sorry not everyone is cheering along with you about a story of a rich woman who decided to get richer off people with god delusions. You yourself are a non-believer as well. There are thousands of religions and gods out there and the only difference between non-believers and yourself is that we believe in one less god than you. Grow up. Fairy tales are not real.

      September 10, 2012 at 9:27 am |
  14. Greg

    What is the point of this story?

    September 9, 2012 at 7:55 am |
    • crazyvermont

      something instead of the normal chaos in the world sounds pretty good to me:)

      September 9, 2012 at 8:02 am |
    • AvdBerg

      Greg

      It is all about CNN promoting religion. Please read the article 'CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times' listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

      September 9, 2012 at 8:06 am |
  15. AvdBerg

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

    For a better understanding of the history of religion and Christianity and its spread throughout the world, we invite you to read the articles ‘Can Christianity or Any Other Religion Save You?’, ‘The Mystery Babylon’, ‘False Apostles and False Christs’ and ‘Ye Need Not That Any Man Teach You’ listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

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

    September 9, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • AvdBerg

      "We" also have complete control of your TV set. Do not attempt to change the channel.

      Because "We" are in control.

      Inagaddadavida.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:01 am |
    • mama kindless

      Revelation??? Please. Everyone knows whoever wrote that mess was high as a kite. They must have crashed their camel in a sea of bath salts or worse. My goodness.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:18 am |
  16. Zenitram

    I have no problems with your beliefs. Just don't tell me or my family to believe them. Don't ask me for money either.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:53 am |
  17. Rob

    And this is why CNN is on the fast-track to being a regional news agency on the world circuit.. Living on the same continent, my care-O-meter isn't even twitching.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:51 am |
    • midwest rail

      Yet here you are, taking the time to comment...

      September 9, 2012 at 7:54 am |
    • Rob

      Clicked on it for this purpose. What was your excuse? I'm guessing it was read the responses to this story (which kinda puts us on the same page).. Honestly I mostly come to this site for the funnies.

      September 9, 2012 at 8:01 am |
  18. GI Joe

    MY GOD says "Do your alms in a closet".

    Meaning, if it is truly good for others, there is no need to publicise it or make a profit from it. Shame on those that are heretics and money changers.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  19. SDCinNS

    Great couple – great story.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:45 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Spreading the ignorance...

      September 9, 2012 at 8:47 am |
  20. GI Joe

    God and Jesus don't beg for money. These "hucksters" do. And they get a lot of it. They keep more than they share with the down and out.

    Go ahead and throw your money (their idol) at them. I'd rather help the family down the street with a bag of groceries or some help at the pump to fill up their car. At least I KNOW my money wasn't spent on a car upgrade or jewelry for a Huckster/Fake prophet.

    September 9, 2012 at 7:43 am |
    • dingusmcgee

      Exactly RIGHT!!!

      September 9, 2012 at 8:05 am |
    • SafeNHisGrace

      Do you REALLY think they're keeping more than they need?? Were you there to see if they asked for a love offering?? Do you know what their bank statement says? NO....No to all 3 questions... Oh, heres another...do you really or did you EVER buy a bag of groceries for the people down he street? and Have you ever paid for someones gas @ the pump?? I surmise those are "NOs" as well. I have done both of those on many occasions (In case you were going to ask or suggest I do the same before asking if you/anyone else has) It just sounds like to me you're full of anger/hatred for this couple for no reason!!! What.....I repeat WHAT have they done to you to deserve such hatred??? The man is a Superbowl Champion; he has millions of his own.....they are encouraging thousands women to soldier on through their battles, they are building homes for disabled children, which puts many men &/or women to work.....what are YOU doing for the kingdom of God?? Do you also condemn Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn & Reinhard Bonnke? These men & women of God do the very same thing~~~travel the WORLD evangelizing men & women, then help build wells, schools, homes etc for people in places like Haiti, the Congo, the Sudan where people are dying!! Don't mess with the Lords anointed!

      September 9, 2012 at 8:16 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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.