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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. yannaes

    I find it extremely interesting that those, of whom want nothing to do with God are tuned in on this chat line. Very interesting, indeed.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • callywag

      I find it very interesting, yannaes, that you have to provoke people on this chat board, while ignoring their freedom of speech. You seem to be a very aggressive person, or like someone mentioned earlier, a very passive-aggressive individual. How unfortunate. You must be rather lonely.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • yannaes

      I do not have the power to provoke anyone unless they are already provoked in their own spirit and mind. Why should what I write, or for that matter anyone else write have any effect on one unless they were already provoked. I presume you and I are trained psychologist?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:58 am |
  2. jd

    Brenda who???

    September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  3. sqeptiq

    To credit an all-powerful "god" for what goes well and never blame that "god" for what goes horribly bad is to be out of touch with reality.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Seyedibar

      She's cute. That's about the only nice thing i have to say about any proselytizing nutso.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • jas

      That is what some would call religious faith, which is nothing more than vanity disguised as virtue and piousness.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
  4. yannaes

    Well, Brynn, then do not pray, no problem. But how do you know this? The empirical impact on your life must have been somewhat tragic. I pray, and yes, it does make one feel better, of course, but I have had courses of events that have changed through prayer, so the "measurable impact" as been significant in my life. And faith goes beyond academics, and intellectualism. So open your eyes and not go with "blind studies" and who knows what might happen in your life. God Bless.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:01 am |
    • Casey

      You worship a false god. Make yourself feel better by doing for others not wasting your time praying for yourself.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • tony

      You earlier, and I think every religious leader there is, dodges or ignores this question.

      "Please explain the parting of the red sea and the slaughter of 200,000 plus innocents in the last two tsunamis."

      Of course, if you think about it, THEY HAVE TO. Otherwise it more than justifies atheism.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  5. Mico Poowkzyc MD

    So she doesn't think it's a good idea to get a real job? Just bounce around the country telling stories about stuff she never did.

    Wow, great gig.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • callywag

      All while she garners sympathy for her and her husbands struggles...like nobody else struggles in life. Still, not many people get paid to do what she's doing. Being an Evangelical freak is good money!

      September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  6. 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)?

    Besides Religion, the Medical Profession, Governments and Political Authorities, Sports and Entertainment is a stronghold of Satan’s divided kingdom and Brenda Warner is a servant thereof (Matthew 10:26-28; 12:26; John 8:34; 2 Cor. 10:4).
    Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith (1 John 5:4).

    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 ‘CNN Belief Blog – Sign of the Times’ 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 11:00 am |
  7. Eric

    This is a great story about the Warners. I feel sorry for all you haters out there. You are missing out on life.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • greg

      i don't understand,missing out on life,whats that all about?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      You're hardly living eric, not if you have to have someone tell you how to live day by day. That's a living death. I feel sorry for you.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • ken ken 21

      Sorry, but YOU are probably missing out on life following the warners!!

      September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  8. getting high for christ

    Man she is really hot. "But God only knows what I could do right now" from Paradise by the dashboard lights by Meatloaf

    September 9, 2012 at 10:56 am |
  9. Its ok to believe

    @Lodge
    The Hopi creation myth has a couple, Spider Woman and her husband Tawa, is it their creation myth or some other you refer to, please specify and which god are we receiving the blessing you laid on us from? Do not want to give credit to the wrong god, now do we?

    September 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  10. pastmorm

    Em...didn't ask for your opinion big...it would seem you're the one whinning in response to my post....

    September 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
  11. zaglossus

    Evangelical Christians may be good people who do good things. But their core beliefs are based on a fairy tale.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • Quite true

      But Benny Hinn said he could clear up my drip for a small donation, thought you would like to know.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:57 am |
  12. scientificpoetry

    These two are a good example of the old adage "ignorance is bliss". Believe all the lies evangelicals spout out and you are truly ignorant.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:51 am |
  13. Mason

    I actually believe in some sort of "god".....just not anything Brenda Warner and the other fakers believe.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:50 am |
    • old ben

      Good for you Mason.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:52 am |
  14. Bostontola

    As an atheist, I don't understand why many atheist posters feel they have to be cynical and totally lack empathy. The Warner's are doing good things. Speculating that their motives are greed is baseless conjecture (sounds more like belief in god than science). Many of you are more "religious" than you think.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:48 am |
    • agentxyz

      Yes I agree, atheism is religion like not-collecting-stamps is a hobby

      September 9, 2012 at 10:51 am |
    • Bostontola

      You should bone up on you reading comprehension.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:53 am |
    • agentxyz

      better than writing comprehension

      September 9, 2012 at 10:55 am |
    • Bostontola

      Ok, clue: quotation marks around religious.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • ejgrignon

      Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.... that is the total point I have been trying to get across. I am a Christian, and I would not ever judge your belief system, but friend you because of your humanity. This is about people who have been able to overcome incredible hardships and can and choose to give back to the world. I so can relate to their story, and found it encouraging to me as I pray it will do for others. We are each others neighbors, and friends... I have athiest friends who are comfortable in their belief system as you are, muslim friends, jewish friends... my faith teaches me to pray for all of you and I will, but nowhere does anyone have the right to be so hateful to each other because we are different. I am always looking for ways to give back and help my neighbors as it is just kindness. I do not care how much money they have, you can take out an elderly neighbor's trash, etc.... tired of giving murderers and thieves the headlines.... great read

      September 9, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      Bostontola, do you feel like a good christian by picking on someone? I find you a typical christian and that has nothing to do with MY teachings.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:59 am |
    • agentxyz

      Free advice: never explain

      September 9, 2012 at 11:00 am |
    • Bostontola

      xyz, being an atheist doesn't make you smart.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
    • Bostontola

      JC, I am an atheist.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:03 am |
    • agentxyz

      You are saying I sound smart?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  15. Jesus Christ

    Wow! I didn't know I called Brenda by name...AND she HEARD me! Isn't that a mental illness? You know, hearing voices that aren't coming from a body or stereo...isn't that crazy?

    September 9, 2012 at 10:48 am |
  16. V is not fiction!

    How many more reptilian women is the evil queen going to send from the mothership? I'm sick of these reptilian women and their husbands!!!

    September 9, 2012 at 10:47 am |
    • greg

      you've listened too much to David Icke...

      September 9, 2012 at 11:02 am |
  17. tony

    I just found four books to buy on Amazon. This article should pump up sales a bit.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      Four books about what tony? This article isn't going to pump up any sales. Christians don't go to non-christian book stores. Most normal bookstores don't offer large print and pop-up books anymore.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • agentxyz

      Tell that to Joel Osteen (who also has beaucoup bucks and a hottie wife)

      September 9, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      I'm SO sorry agentxyz, I forgot that Joel has his books on CD at the bookstore....LOL!

      September 9, 2012 at 10:58 am |
    • tony

      Four books about $15-$40.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:09 am |
  18. Lodge of Wisdom

    How sad my brothers to see you commit intellectual suicide....your arrogance has you blinded to the works of our Great Architech.....how angered you must be in your efforts to deny his creation....his beauty surrounds you every day but your arrogance allows you not a chance to believe....don't worry my brother...your youthful ignorance will blind you until you accept your state in life....you will soon enough get over your false sense of knowledge...until then you will continue to spew your ignorance....God Bless all of you....ITS OK TO BELIEVE.....

    September 9, 2012 at 10:41 am |
    • tony

      Then please explain the parting of the red sea and the slaughter of 200,000 plus innocents in the last two tsunamis.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:43 am |
    • pastmorm

      Yo lodge...explain "how many?" animals on a boat for "how long?" What did they eat? Who cleaned up after them? Explain how adam and eve happened to be the only parents on the earth 7 thousand years ago...massive interbreeding there...
      Now explain why you're talking like a crazy bible prophet yourself...

      September 9, 2012 at 10:45 am |
    • yannaes

      To explain this goes into depth of which you may not quite comprehend. You see, science does not preclude the existence of a creator, as much as the Creator does not preclude science. When one reads the Philosophy of Kant, and begins understanding the reasoning process, this does not negate faith and a Creator. Might I suggest you read, in German of course, the original work of Immanuel Kant's, Critique of Pure Reason. Then once completed that work, go into the original writings of the Greek and Hebrew and find the similarities. Good luck on your quest.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • pastmorm

      yannaes, you silly git, I grew up in Germany. And yet, typical of your type, you know nothing about me, yet with your superiority complex (possibly a personality disorder) you act as though I've never been educated by the works of great and not so great writers. Still...I think your christian legends are silly and archaic. Try to respond to someone less educated. You megalomania is stereotypical of your type.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:57 am |
    • tony

      I think every religious leader there is, dodges or ignores this question.

      "Please explain the parting of the red sea and the slaughter of 200,000 plus innocents in the last two tsunamis."

      Of course, if you think about it, THEY HAVE TO. Otherwise it more than justifies atheism.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:05 am |
    • jas

      how sad that you are the self appointed mouthpiece and judge of the great wizard in the sky.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • yannaes

      Love Germany. I just moved from Heidelberg to Paris. Had many discussions with the "Great Scholars" pastmorm. By the student's of Heidelberg, that I spoke with I was never referred to as a "silly git." I am humored by this, and you supposition that I think you to be "uneducated" leaves me with the level of thought that you are very defensive. Superiority, actually, I am a person of faith and very simple. I have been schooled by great lecturers and was an educator myself, and have an appreciation for dialogue with students, but would never resort to "name calling." My my, how immature.

      September 9, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
  19. pastmorm

    Sweet Evil Jesus! Yet another story about two dumb freaks trying to FORCE everyone to believe they way they do with their limited intelligence. Yay!!!!

    September 9, 2012 at 10:40 am |
    • yannaes

      Wow! What a reaction from such an intellectual as you. My, you seem so very angry! If you do not agree with the thought process of another it is ok..but to be so hostile, you must see someone, A.S.A.P.

      September 9, 2012 at 10:46 am |
    • bigwords

      OH no one is forcing anything.........stop whinning

      September 9, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • pastmorm

      Excellent passive-aggressive force yannaes! Turn your own anger around and transfer it to me so that you can justify your own feelings while you suppress them. Then without any professional degree, you tell me to go see "someone" while you yourself are the manipulator in your posting. Wonderful!!!!

      September 9, 2012 at 10:52 am |
    • yannaes

      Actually, you do not know what I have at all. Just curious. Why your hostile reaction to what I write? I am intrigued by your response, not surprised, just intrigued. I did not say to whom you should see, did I. I presume you made an assumption! Tragic, indeed!

      September 9, 2012 at 12:02 pm |
  20. Blondie

    Eeeech.

    September 9, 2012 at 10:40 am |
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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.