FamilyLife Today® Podcast

Heroes at Home, Part 2

with Ellie Kay | July 4, 2006
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Being away on active duty can be stressful on a military family. Today on the broadcast, Ellie Kay, the wife of an Air Force pilot and author of the book Heroes at Home, tells what it’s like to keep a family running while your husband is away on active duty.

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Being away on active duty can be stressful on a military family. Today on the broadcast, Ellie Kay, the wife of an Air Force pilot and author of the book Heroes at Home, tells what it’s like to keep a family running while your husband is away on active duty.

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Ellie Kay tells what it’s like to keep a family running while your husband is away on active duty.

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Heroes at Home, Part 2

With Ellie Kay
July 04, 2006
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Bob: When you're in the military, sometimes it's important to learn secret codes so you can understand not just what the enemy is saying but what your allies are saying as well.  Here is Ellie Kay.

Ellie: If he's been on the – you know, focused, flying and sighting and giving orders, he can come home and kind of still be giving orders.  So we have a code, and it's called "K&G" – it means "kinder and gentler."  And when I give him that code – and we have agreed on it ahead of time – he immediately throttles back, so to speak, and he realizes that he's doing it, because sometimes he's not even aware of it.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Independence Day, Tuesday, July 4th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  We're going to help military families crack the code today on how to make a marriage work.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Tuesday edition.  You know, we lived for a while in San Antonio, Texas, and San Antonio is a big town for military – Lackland Air Force Base is in San Antonio, and if you're enlisted in the Air Force, you will spend time at Lackland Air Force Base.  It's just a given.  You'll do your basic training there.  Fort Sam Houston is there, there's a lot of military families in our church down there, and I think it was probably San Antonio where I first got an appreciation for a little bit of what military life is like.  And I reflected back on this, Dennis.  You know, the verse in – what is it, is it 1 Timothy or 2 Timothy where Timothy says soldiers are different; they kind of turn their back on worldly stuff and are focused on an assignment.  They follow their orders, and they don't get entangled, the Bible says, with civilian matters.

 And I saw that in the life of these military families.  I saw that it was a different kind of life than Mary Ann and I were living.

Dennis: And yet they do have homes and families that have a lot of civilian matters that have to …

Bob: … have to be dealt with.

Dennis: Have to be dealt with, and we've got some help and hope and encouragement for military families here as we continue to fight this war on terrorism, and in the studio today with us is Ellie Kay, no stranger to our audience, and she's been on FamilyLife Today before.  Ellie Kay, welcome back.  We're glad you would come back and join us an honor some of the heroes at home in the military families across the country.

Ellie: Well, thank you so much.  It is my privilege to do that.

Dennis: Ellie Kay is a national radio commentator for "Money Matters," a regular guest on "Power Lunch," CNBC's number-one rate show.  She is a speaker, she and her husband, Bob, have been in the Air Force for 26 years, is that right?

Ellie: Well, actually, he's been in for 23 years.  He was in before I married him.

Dennis: Okay.  They have five children, and she has written a book called "Heroes at Home," and one of the stories that you tell in your book that I really enjoyed as a photographer who had been badly burned in Vietnam. 

Ellie: Oh, yes, well, this was Brian Schule [sp], and he had come to our base to do a special photography shoot on the AT38, which was the jet that my husband was flying, and my husband invited him over for dinner.  And it's not very often that you have a living legend, a real hero, to come to your home.  But, as I said, you know, he had been badly burned, and he had multiple plastic surgeries, but his face was still – it was still quite evident.  And so we tried to prepare our three little preschoolers for the fact that a hero was going to come visit us, but he had a big owie on his face, and that's what happened when he was in his airplane, and that we don't need to stare and make him uncomfortable, but we just needed to welcome him to our home.

 So he walks in the front door, and our little three-year-old girl walks up to him – Bethany – and she says, "I know why your face looks like that."

Dennis: Oh, no.

Ellie: Because you got hurt in an airplane.  And then our five-year-old son immediately shouted to us in the back of the house as we realized someone was there and were walking up, he shouts, "Papa, Bethany's talking about the hero's face.  You told us not to."

Dennis: And what did your guest do?

Ellie: You know what?  He really was gracious.  I mean, I think this is a mark of a real hero because he showed us grace and mercy, and he says, "Hey, I am hungry.  What's for dinner?"

Dennis: You know, as you provide help and hope through your book, "Heroes at Home," one of the things you talk about there that every military family has to face is the time when there's a TDY – the husband or the wife is called away either on behalf of a training mission or to actually go to battle.  You call a rule, the "TDY rule" that always occurs no matter when your spouse leaves.

Ellie: Well, you know, this is universal.  It's throughout all branches of military service.  It's inevitable that as soon as they deploy, the kids are going to get the stomach virus and it will go through all of your children, and then the washer will break down and you know what?  I have to admit this – there was one year that I ended up replacing two garage doors in the same year because I backed into both of them.

Bob: And your husband was gone, and you just had to take care of that kind of stuff.

Ellie: Of course, it was when he was TDY, so I kind of blame him for it.  It really wasn't my fault.

Dennis: But you said under your breath, you'd backed into them.

Ellie: Well, but that wasn't my fault really.

Bob: Yeah, yeah.

Ellie: Well, he told one of the kids to kind of pull it down a little bit, and I didn't see it because the Suburban is really big, and it kind of just tore off the hinges.

Bob: But as a military mom – tore off the hinges?  As a military wife and mom, you've got to be ready to be mom and dad and fixer and kind of do it all, don't you?

Ellie: Well, you really do, and you know what?  That's one of the reasons I wrote this book is because it gives some practical tips on how we can do those things, how we can prepare for those TDYs ahead of time as much as we can.  And also how the community can come alongside these families.  That's where our real help is, and it's a joy to be able to have friends that care enough to reach out when Dad or Mom are TDY.

Dennis: And one of the things you've had happen because you have five children is you've give birth when he's been gone?

Ellie: Well, you know, we were worried about that, that we were going to end up giving birth when he was gone, and he did miss the birth of the last child, but that's because he was parking the car, and the baby came in a minute and a half.

Dennis: Nothing so glorious as a mission somewhere …

Ellie: He only wishes that it were, but he was parking the car, and 10-and-a-half pound baby Joshua came all of a sudden.

Bob: Oh, wow.  You know, Ellie, there are days when I'll come home from work, and work has been challenging or stressful or there's just been a lot to do, and my reentry into the home is not as smooth as it could be, and there have been times when the kids will talk to me, and Mary Ann will say, "Don't talk to Dad, he's not home yet."  "But I see him right" – "No, he's not here with us yet," when I'm still kind of focused on what's going on back at the office.

 I would think for me in the military that sense of focus, that sense of career and distraction is intensified so that sometimes it's hard to engage at home maybe for days or weeks at a time.

Ellie: Well, and that's true, Bob, and then you add the double whammy, and that is that they could be gone again in a moment's notice.  So if they're home, they may be home for two days or two months, and then they're going to go off again.  So that's one of the challenges that we have, and I do address that issue.  There are some practical ways that you can help them make that adjustment – something as simple as realizing that that exists.  So many young spouses, in particular, don't know what their spouses are going through, and they have a lot of problems as a result.  So part of it's just awareness.

Dennis: And part of it is you, as a wife, when he leaves, you have to take over.  You have to become totally self sufficient to run the household, and then when he comes back, instantly, you have to let him reengage and take over the family, and those aren't easy transitions.  Barbara went through that – we're not in the military, but I'd go off on a trip, come back home.  What advice do you have for the wife whose husband is traveling but specific apply for the military family, if you would.

Ellie: Well, the main thing is to just give them a lot of space when they come back, and also it's a two-way street.  You know, the spouse that's re-entering also needs to be aware of the fact that the spouse they left behind is not really the same person they left behind because now they're in charge, especially if it's been for three, six, 12 months at a time, and that's what our military faces.

 They're in charge, they're in control, and a wise spouse that is coming back will give their spouse a lot of time to transition and turn over those areas of leadership back to them.  So it goes both ways, but part of it is just making it a slow transition and being aware.

Dennis: Did you and Bob ever have a real tiff?

Ellie: We're a perfect family, and that's how you're interviewing me today, right?  You know what we've developed that's really cool, and that is just like a code word, and sometimes if he's been flying and sighting and giving orders and giving orders, he can come home and kind of still be giving orders.  So we have a code, and it's called "K&G" – it means "kinder and gentler."  And when I give him that code – and we have agreed on it ahead of time, then he immediately throttles back, so to speak, and he realizes that he's doing it, because sometimes he's not even aware of it.

Bob: There have to be some nuances worked out in a military marriage and in a military family – some of these code words and just a recognition that we've got some different dynamics that work in our relationship than we might otherwise have.  If you were sitting down today with a young mom who is maybe in her first or second year as a military wife, and she's going through it, the adjustments are hard, and life is not working out the way she thought it was going to work out. 

 You've talked about your husband being an old warrior which, I guess, makes you an old warrior's wife, doesn't it?

Ellie: Well, I guess it does, but he is considerably older than I am, Bob.

Dennis: He married her when she was 12.

Bob: I understand.  How would you coach this young wife?  What's the best advice you got when you were a young Air Force bride?  What would you say?

Ellie: Well, you know what?  It may be, in some ways, similar advice that you might give to any young bride with children especially, and that is plug into the resources that are all around you.  If you can get into a Homebuilders Bible study that's in your community or neighborhood, plug into that, that's going to be a great resource.  Mothers of Preschoolers, MOPS, was really my salvation.  When you have five babies in seven years, there are a lot of preschoolers in there.  A lot of military bases have MOPS programs.  If they don't have one, then start one.

 And then Protestant women at the chapel, Catholic women at the chapel are chapel programs on each and every base, and they have great evangelical Christian type of Bible studies, and childcare is available right there.  These are all resources, and they're vital – they're spiritual resources, yes, but they're also opportunities to get what other people in your same situation and be pointed in directions that are really going to help you.

Bob: You said you've got to step out and move into the community and be aggressive about tapping into the community.

Ellie: That is exactly right.  If you stay home, and you just cower in fear, then it's going to be a tough thing to do.

Dennis: The Christian community has some responsibility here – back to the military marriage and family – coach us as to how we can relate to a military married couple, military family – what are some practical things we can do when they're together and when one of the spouses is off on a mission.

Ellie: Well, you know, there are some really practical things that you can do to help.  One of the things that you can do while they're together is to encourage them to work on their relationship and to encourage them in their marriage and to also – there are some very practical things that I've listed here that they need to take care of ahead of time, and that is stuff like guardianship and how to take care of the finances if the spouse isn't used to doing it.  You know, there are some practical things they need to take care of when they're together, but then when they're gone, I've found that people would come to me when Bob – you know, during the Gulf War, let's say, and babies were really little.  We didn't have all of our children at that point, and then you say, "Hey, if there's anything I can do, let me know."  Well, guess how many times I called those people.  Zero.

Dennis: Right.

Ellie: I didn't call them at all.  It's more practical to say, "Hey, your husband's gone, it's got to be hard.  Can we take your kids on Saturday so you can go grocery shopping?"  "Will you come over to our house on Monday night for dinner?"  "Can I bring you a casserole on Thursday or Wednesday, which one is better for you?"

Dennis: "Can I change the oil in your car while you're taking a nap one afternoon?"

Ellie: That's right, and "Can my sons come over and cut your lawn?"  I mean, it's limitless the things that you can do.  I mean, you could even say, "Hey, can we come put your garage door back on your garage?"

Dennis: Two times in one year.

Ellie: Well, they stock them now – Custom Overhead Door stocks our garage door.

Bob: Do they put your name on it?  They've got them in the warehouse "This is for the Kay house sometime in the next months they'll undoubtedly need it."

 You know, we talk about the challenges of being the one in charge of all of it, and that's where you do need to tap into the community.  There is also the challenge that while your husband is away, you don't know what harm he's in.  You don't know what he's going through.  You've got to be praying for him in kind of a "God, protect him," kind of those general prayers because you don't know the specifics often, do you?

Ellie: That's right, we don't know that.  And, as a matter of fact, just a few months ago, I got a call from Bob, and he was night flying in the Stealth, and he just said, "Hi, Beloved, I had a good flight, goodbye," and he hung up, and that was a code.  That's the code we've worked out because the squadron shuts down, and he can't make a call to me to tell me that he's okay, so he tries to make a quick call before the squadron shuts down.  That was a code for that a jet had gone down, and …

Dennis: … he's okay.

Ellie: He was okay.  That's his call to me saying "It wasn't me."  And so I was immediately on the alert because – and it was him, so he was okay, but that didn't make me that much more relaxed because then I thought, "Well, was it Myra?"  She's got three preschoolers.  Was it Lynn Hoover?  She has two preschoolers, expecting her third.  Was it Suzanne Buck?  They're our neighbors.  I will be there for notification.  I'm on her paperwork, and I went through the list and just praying for all those other families because even if it's not us, it could be someone that we love and dear that are in the squadron.  That is something that military families have to deal with on a regular basis.

Bob: You have, on a couple of occasions here, you have said that when you and Bob have these conversations, you call each other "Beloved?" 

Ellie: Yes, instead of "Honey" or "Sugar," it's "Beloved."

Bob: Where did that come from?

Ellie: It came from the Song of Solomon.

Bob: But did you decide one day, "I'm going to start calling you 'Beloved?'"

Ellie: Yes, we decided early in our marriage that why be normal?  We're not very normal.  So we thought a unique name would be that, but, you know, when I'm mad at him, then I call him "Beee-luuuv-iddd."  He prefers that I call him "Bob."

Bob: You have seen lots of young husbands and wives who, because of the unique pressures of the military marriage and family, have found themselves turning to a God they didn't know and coming into a relationship with him through Christ, right?

Ellie: That is right and, you know, I just believe that there is a real hunger out there, and in this book we have pointed people towards the source of our hope, and we've done it in a way that the military can accept, because if we have something out there, and it's going to be distributed by official military areas in some ways, it can't be something that's proselytizing and yet it's such a perfect fit because it fits right into a chapel program.

 The DOD, they embrace Christianity …

Bob: That's the Department of Defense, is that right?

Ellie: Right, right.

Bob: Just making sure I know the acronym.

Ellie: Right, it's one of the acronyms, yes.  But every base around the world has a chapel.  They have a chaplain that's assigned to them and, yes, they are all different religions.  You have Mormons, and you have all kinds of faiths, Buddhists, everything, and yet there are Christian chaplains out there, and they're distributing materials like yours, and that's where people can come to know Christ.  And young couples are open to that, they're looking for it.  If we will be so bold as to take them the truth.

Dennis: A military base represents a mission field.

Ellie: Exactly.

Dennis: There are a lot of needs, a lot of loneliness, and a lot of ways that we in the Christian community can reach out and personally impact these lives.

 We talked yesterday not only about your book, "Heroes at Home," and how that can be passed out at chapels and be used on a military base as a gift for a military family, but also how FamilyLife in cooperation with the military ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ has produced a Bible study called "Defending the Military Marriage," and I just have to say I am so excited we produced this Bible study.  It's not a long Bible study.  It's just about six weeks along, but it can be used to do two things.  Number one, to call military marriages and families to have a spiritual mindset and to grow in their relationship with Christ and, number two, to have a network of relationships of accountability partners outside of their marriage so that when one spouse is gone there are others to come alongside that spouse who is left at home.

 I'll tell you, Ellie, I think your ministry here and what you are attempting to do is so needed among military marriages and families because there are a great number of divorces.  The military family is under attack today as never before, and I think we forget that – that the military marriages don't have an easy time.  They really are challenged in their commitment at, really, another level than even the average civilian in the normal culture.

Ellie: That's so true, because we face so many different factors.  I mean, we are away from our spouses.  In some ways, we start to compartmentalize because we even imagine life without them, and we have to be self-sufficient and yet we want to be bonded with them in our hearts.  So it is a unique challenge.

Bob: Did your husband have anything to say about the fact that it looks like that's a Marine on the front cover of your book, is that right?

Ellie: Well, you know what?  This is a book for all branches of the military.  I mean, we have got profiles, personality profiles from all different branches.

Dennis: I know, but he's in the Air Force, and …

Bob: … there's a Marine on the cover.

Dennis: Is this a point of contention?

Ellie: Well, I mean, they – you know what?  I can't believe it, but my publisher did not consult my husband on the cover, okay?  They didn't.

Dennis: But the question is did your husband consult with your wife?

Ellie: You know what?  My husband looked at that cover, and he said, "That is cool."  Because we're all in this together, and we're all a team.

Dennis: Good for him.

Bob: I like that, that's right, I'll salute him for that.

Dennis: I will, too.

Bob: Absolutely.

Dennis: And we will salute you, Ellie Kay, for your work on this book, "Heroes at Home," and your husband for his defense on behalf of our nation, and I would encourage our listeners, if they haven't prayed recently for a military family in their church, their community, to do so right now, and we pray God's favor upon your marriage, your family, and your husband as he continues to protect our nation.

Ellie: Well, thank you so much, and God bless you and God bless America.

Bob: You know, I was thinking about the fact that acronyms are a big deal with the military, and we've got "Defending the Military Marriage," which would be DMM, right?

Ellie: Right, sure you could.

Bob: And then "Heroes at Home," which would be HAH, Hah.  And we have all of that available in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  If you'd like to call us to get DMM and HAH, you can call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's – you'd like that?

Dennis: I would.

Bob: DMM and HAH – 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.  You can go online at  DMM is "Defending the Military Marriage," it's the Homebuilders study that we have designed for military couples to go through with other military couples, and HAH, is Ellie Kay's book, "Heroes at Home," which is designed, again, for husbands and wives to help them understand how marriage and family in the military can sync up well together, and you can request either or both of these resources from us when you go online at or when you call 1-800-FLTODAY. 

 If you go online, click the red "Go" button in the middle of the screen, and that will take you right to the page where you can get more information about these resources.  You can order them online, if you'd like, and if you want to call 1-800-FLTODAY, you can give us a call, and we'll get these resources sent out to you.

 You know, on a 4th of July holiday, it may be that there are some folks who are tuned in listening who aren't regular listeners to FamilyLife Today, and if you're one of those folks, you don't get a chance to listen very often because of your schedule, we're glad that you were able to be with us today and hope you found today's program helpful.  FamilyLife Today exists to provide practical biblical help for marriages and families.  We want to see marriages of all kinds strengthened, and we want to see families strong as well.  Our FamilyLife Resource Center exists so that we can provide you with quality resources to strengthen your relationships.  We have events like the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conference that's held in cities all across the country, again designed to build stronger marriages.

 Our website,, is loaded up with lots of content, articles, resources, again, for helping couples and families.  And, of course, this daily radio program heard each weekday on this station at this time is a listener-supported program designed to help you when it comes to life's most important relationships – our relationship with God and our relationships at home.  And I mentioned that we're listener-supported.  We depend on donations from folks who listen to help keep this program on the air.  In fact, the reason we're able to be on the air today is because folks like you in past weeks and months have called or gone online to make a donation to FamilyLife Today, and we appreciate those folks who do partner with us in helping to support the ministry.

 And, again, thanks for listening.  We're glad you were able to tune in today and thanks for helping to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.

 Well, tomorrow we're going to be joined in the studio by someone who became kind of an American hero when he participated in the Olympics back in '64, '68, '72 – won the Silver Medal in the 1500 meters and held the world record for a while in the mile.  Jim Ryun is going to join us along with his two sons, Ned and Drew, and we're going to talk about some people who are heroes that you may have never of before – folks like Christopher Green or Elijah Lovejoy or Peter Muhlenberg, or Edith Cavell.  We'll talk about some of these unknown American heroes on tomorrow's program.  I hope you can be with us for that.

 I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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