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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 (1,653 Responses)
  1. Romeo

    Disgusting that North Americans support these wealthy athletes with pay check after pay check. We should be taxing these people not worshipping athletes.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  2. Jesus freaker

    Another story of how God loves football more than children.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  3. Love my Creator

    Its real simple.....if I'm wrong then I lose nothing.....but if you are wrong....it's eternal.....I'm a betting guy so I'll take Jesus.........

    September 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • agentxyz

      What if you chose the wrong religion?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:25 am |
    • agentxyz

      You should hedge your bets and switch to polytheism

      September 9, 2012 at 11:28 am |
    • Anon

      Pascal's wager is utterly nonsensical and has been debunked so many times.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • agentxyz

      You claim to be a betting man, but you obviously never played roulette

      September 9, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Brahma

      @Love my Creator
      You are barking up the wrong tree, pal, and if you don't show me, Brahma, a little love, you will be coming back as a dung beatle, enjoy!

      September 9, 2012 at 11:33 am |
    • Not afraid to Believe

      Well said Creator......atheism ='s ABSOLUTE ETERNAL SUICIDE......

      September 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • Damocles

      So you believe out of fear of death? That's cool and I can understand that to a degree, but fear does not equal love or respect. If your deity uses fear as a tool, then that's a fairly sad representation of a deity.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:34 am |
    • snowboarder

      ah yes. the cowards reason for believing.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:39 am |
    • snowboarder

      any deity that demands belief under threat of eternal torture is undeniably false.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:41 am |
    • Love my Creator

      Agent...I just told you I'm picking JESUS....you can choose to worship dirt if you want... Enjoy the sun today....Oh, that happened by chance too didn't it?...take today and open your eyes to the beauty of our Architech.....your mind can't rationalize the gifts bestowed upon us....lose the false pride and you too will see the light...God Bless you

      September 9, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • agentxyz

      Santa's going to put coal in my stocking :(

      September 9, 2012 at 11:42 am |
    • Love my Creator

      Snowboarder....it's Eternal Life.....now go smoke another bowl....enjoy the gifts put here by your creator

      September 9, 2012 at 11:44 am |
    • sqeptiq

      So, it's pretty obvious now. You wear christianity the way a poor swimmer wears a life vest.

      September 9, 2012 at 1:52 pm |
  4. Laurie Harfert

    I couldn't think of a better article to read this Sunday morning. Thank you, CNN, for posting an article that is inspiring, heart- warming, and encouraging. I think we can all use a little more of that these days.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:20 am |
  5. treblemaker

    To all three bloggers before me-go take a hike and spew your venom in the gutter where it belongs!!! Because the mind is the devil's playground, and until your heart has been changed by the eternal spirit of the Lord, your sorry life will have no meaning, no matter what material wealth you may possess. The Messiah's journey is call the Way-He shows lost spirits (and that's all we are, for our bodies stay behind and return to dust after our time on Earth is over) the way back home, but you have to believe that the Messiah's way is the ONLY way back home. Any other path leads to the abyss.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      Treble...when did I ever tell you that I was the only way? Do you know that thousands of religions have come and gone since my supposed birth and death? How dare you condemn people in my name when I've never spoken a word for you, done a thing for you or even shown a single soul that I truly exist???

      September 9, 2012 at 11:22 am |
  6. Robert

    All Praise the Jeeezus that enables us to live tax free and worship and glorify his holy name while collecting lots of money and never paying our fair share.............................................................................

    September 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
  7. yannaes

    Wow. Was not judging you, just your statement. I do not even know you, and if I did I certainly would not be in the judgment seat. Please, it is not necessary to be defensive. It is ok if you hold what you think, no problem here.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      Now on to your more passive maneuvering...very inter sting. Soon you'll be worked up into an angry froth again and the aggressive part will come out. Seems like a Borderline Personality Disorder to me.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:25 am |
  8. Liberalismrequirestyranny

    Damocles said: "Oh, it's a question of how many rituals a person has now? What's the magic number of rituals your deity deems fitting as worthy of it?"

    As always, you miss it. Your pride causes you to miss the opportunity to pursue a logical or reasonable course.
    Instead, you obfuscate.

    Zero rituals is how many my religion prescribes. Simply trust the Savior. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    But, you shouldn't be looking at me. The point I was trying to wake you up to is this: Look at yourself.
    You pridefully think "others" have religious beliefs but exempt yourself.
    You AREN'T EXEMPT. Your religion/religious beliefs are no different than every other human being's.
    We all have them. No exceptions.
    Can you still not grasp that simple concept?

    September 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Purnelll Meagre

      If Mittt ROmney. Newt Gingrich and Kurt Warner were locked in a room with alll their wives, wold they be able to figure out who goes with who?If so, how?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • agentxyz

      One has a very hard immobile hairdo

      September 9, 2012 at 11:27 am |
  9. tc4012

    creepy how CNN draws every anti-religoun bigot from here to kingdom come... How do you have such a large percentage of angry dirtbags?

    September 9, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • CS

      @tc4012

      The atheists are simply fed up with ignorance, though their methods may be a bit misguided.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      WOW tc4012, I don't recall telling you and your fellow "christians" to call people dirtbags...what god do you really worship???
      It would seem that the last christian did indeed die on the cross. tc4012, you're a hypocrite.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:17 am |
  10. roscoeiron

    ISince we don't get to choose what parents we are born to (and their religion) everyone is basically religiously brain-washed by their parents. Maybe if schools would educate/teach (NOT preach) the beliefs/faiths of various religions the whole damn world would be a more tolerant place filled with less hate and less religious wars. I was born/raised by Catholics and not one person in my upbringing explained the difference or nuances about the Jewish belief, Lutherans, Quakers, Muslims, Presbyterian, Baptists, etc. I learned it all on my own andI I respect all. Just because every generation is brain washed by their parents doesn't mean their religion is the best. And unlike the Brenda lovers, I won't give a dime to the Catholic church until they fully support the law to take to trial and incarcerate the pedophile priests – they just like to relocate them.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:14 am |
    • ejgrignon

      I really appreciate what you wrote roscoeiron, as I also was raised a Roman Catholic. I do not discriminate another's belief system, but embrace their loving humanity. I know friends who have had their parents religion shoved down their throat, and it just pushed them away and sadly made them into angry adults. I follow Christ period... I have been enjoying the Baptist church more this past decade, and even tried congregational. Sadly, the more I studied the bible the more I became aware of Roman Catholocism's man made rules and regulations.... but all of it is okay, and I witness when asked, but try not to by words, but by actions brought about by faith... this is my only faith based post, as too many hate filled atheists and it breaks my heart to read so much hurt and anger, except Bostonia and a few athiest friends that I have who are comfortable with themselves. I won't stop praying for them, but I would not ever hurt any of them either, just bring on the kindness. This story is so about people who have endured extreme hardships, as so many have. What people do not get, is it isn't about their money, it is in that they didn't give up but chose to give back. Great read, hopefully it will inspire others to give back, maybe not financially, but come on I am permanently handicapped and I can take out an elderly person's trash or even try to encourage... love thy neighbor as thyself is the greatest command of these.... God Bless everyone, no matter how hurt, or angry you are, just don't give up but please give a hand to each other no matter what your faith may be you are still loved, even by a simple minded Christian like me

      September 9, 2012 at 11:31 am |
    • sqeptiq

      I was brought up in a Catholic religion that taught all those other false christians were going to hell. And all the little unbaptized babies would spend eternity in a place called Limbo (which I later learned has something to do with trying to walk under a really low stick until you fall down).

      September 9, 2012 at 1:58 pm |
  11. peddlers

    do not be peddlers of the Word. you received free give free

    September 9, 2012 at 11:13 am |
  12. Marina

    Sorry for all her troubles and turbulations, but I see only GREED written acrosss this face....All these poor women who need THAT type of inspiration...Women! Wake up! You are just as strong and powerful already! You don't need this collective therapy session to enable yourself!

    September 9, 2012 at 11:12 am |
  13. tony

    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 11:11 am |
    • yannaes

      Tony, Jesus loves ya, man. You think you are the first or will be the last scoffer. Come on give us something we can really discuss. This was weak, man, you must be brighter than what you wrote. Please tell us you are.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:16 am |
    • Liberalismrequirestyranny

      The parting of the Red Sea was pretty self-explanatory. Do you have a specific question about?

      How are the earth's tidal waves relevant to the parting of the Red Sea?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:19 am |
    • tony

      I'd call that a dodge (again).

      September 9, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      I'll tell you yannaes, I do indeed love tony, but you're getting on my nerves. I think he wants an answer to his logical question.. Why can't you provide it?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • tony

      Because they were either both your god's choice. Or godless physics natural events. You can't cherry pick the good stuff for god and the bad stuff not. Otherwise, god's existence becomes only a matter of your choosing.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
    • yannaes

      Tony: I have that much control over you that I would be getting on your nerves. I guess that tells me your faith in atheistic thought needs to be revitalized.

      You see, I do not need to explain anything in the course of science and miracles. If I did you would not believe it no matter what, so just do not let me control the fibers of your ganglia's.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:30 am |
    • Jesus Christ

      Clever and manipulative cop-out yanny...

      September 9, 2012 at 11:32 am |
  14. notea4me

    Christian pandering is very profitable.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:11 am |
    • Sherry

      I doubt they need the extra income. I'm sure they are pretty well off, considering her husband made millions. Could it be, that because of their faith, they are being blessed?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:26 am |
  15. Chris33

    Science flies you to the moon.

    Religion flies you into buildings.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:09 am |
    • yannaes

      Wow! What an intellectual theorist you are!

      September 9, 2012 at 11:13 am |
    • callywag

      yannaes, I thought your silly book tells you to "judge not lest ye be judged." It seems like your more aggressive side is coming out now as you let go of the passive pushing and now forcefully allow your anger to control other people. Facinating.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • yannaes

      Callywag: Is this the best you have? Please tell me you have more to offer than your rhetoric you posted towards what I wrote, please, tell me you have more to offer.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • Liberalismrequirestyranny

      callywag said, to Yannaes: " I thought your silly book tells you to "judge not lest ye be judged." It seems like your more aggressive side is coming out now as you let go of the passive pushing and now forcefully allow your anger to control other people. Facinating."

      What's fascinating and, frankly,..funny,... is your incompetence in grasping the simplest of concepts.
      Read the next verse, Ms. Shallow. (Matt 7:2).

      September 9, 2012 at 11:24 am |
    • callywag

      Ewwww yannaes, now your aggressive side! I think a few people on here are having fun with your mental illness as it surfaces and then disappears! Thank you for the entertainment!!

      September 9, 2012 at 11:27 am |
    • sqeptiq

      Time flies like an arrow;
      Fruit flies like a banana.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
  16. letsgomets2012!

    4 books?

    Probably all self published. I'll bet you the waterfront.

    This "Christian" lot is a lot different than the true born-agains you saw back in the early Seventies - remember all the "I found it!" bumper stickers you saw on cars back then -- this group has unresolved issues. You'll find plenty of "down on their luck" stories that usually invloved alcoholism, an abusive parent/spouse, etc.

    This is also a rapidly growing demographic. They homeschool their kids and that's going to have an effect on school populations and aid a public school gets from the state it is in.

    Their rhetoric is also quite exclusive. They tend to keep to themselves, hence the homeschooling. They do not mix, they do not segregate.

    Warner? Did he play for the Jets or Giants? Hm.....how quickly the public forgets....yep, the Giants in 2004 and he washed out after one season.....guy the the name of Eli Manning stole his spotlight. Rookie guy, to be more specific, named Eli Manning.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
  17. katty wompus

    So they blew hubby's football millions and are now fleecing the rubes.

    Tammy Faye and Jimbo would be so proud!

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

      loool

      September 9, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • sqeptiq

      I'd feel better about them if the banner behind them read something other than Amway...like maybe the name of a children's hospital or something similar.

      September 9, 2012 at 2:02 pm |
  18. Anon

    Jesus can go fu*k himself. Even a clown can offer better advice than that imaginary piece of $#it.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
  19. CS

    @atheists

    To think that you are accomplishing anything here is either a lie or just foolishness. You all just like hearing yourself talk. That's it. You are not persuading any Christians or anyone else.

    I am an atheist, but the battle for America will not be won beating up Christians on this blog. That is akin to bullying retarded people. And if we are morally sound, we know better.

    Progress will be made by taking the high ground.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • katty wompus

      How judgemental of you.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:06 am |
    • Anon

      Nearly all Christians are like this in the head.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:07 am |
    • CS

      @katty

      You disagree with me?

      September 9, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • JayJ7

      I agree, if a grown person can go to church every Sunday so they can communicate telepathically with invisible sky fairies they have gone so wrong for so long that they will never be able to recognize reality from fantasy. I wish I could be optimistic that the any approach would lead to progress. It is certainly a measure of how our school system has failed.

      September 9, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • sqeptiq

      And calling them retarded is not "beating up"?

      September 9, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
  20. Zoby

    Evangelical christians are just creepy, they look all smiley happy and like their faces are made of rubber. Usually I can spot them without even being told... Of course it makes sense given their heads are so full of b.u.l.l.s.h.i.t that its leaking out their ears.

    September 9, 2012 at 11:04 am |
    • katty wompus

      Michelle Bachmann. Poster girl for the Christian Crazies

      September 9, 2012 at 11:08 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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.