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Billy Ballenger: Music With a Message

Winter Jam is the country’s largest Christian music tour. In 2020, it was recording artist Billy Ballenger’s big break. His single “Tree and the Nails," is his first hit.

Dawson: “Tree and the Nails. It’s such a powerful song.”

Ballenger responds, “Thank you. I just feel – man, that's a true honor to get to be able to present a song like that. So many times we feel like we're broken. But I think what's important about that song is, is that we get to talk about what Jesus did, not what we failed, you know?"

Dawson: “When you think about failure in your life looking back it's a different story.”

Ballenger says, “Yeah.  It was rough. My memory of that was rough.”

Billy was raised in a broken home and as a teenager began running away.

“I just felt like I was running away to freedom, each time,” says Ballenger. “But then you'd get there and the grass wasn't greener on the other side, you know?As a kid I just wanted to have some peace.”

Billy was placed in a residential facility and for a while things began looking up. That’s when he met Jodie.

“We were in choir together because that was the time everybody wanted to be in choir so you could see – like the boys wanted to see the girls, the girls wanted to see the boys, and choir was the place to do that,” says Jodie.

The couple’s relationship grew quickly. When they were seventeen, Billy and Jodie left the group home and Jodie became pregnant. Though they were married shortly after, the Ballengers fell into the wrong crowd and began selling drugs.

Ballenger says, “I had great opportunities in front of me, I just chose, for whatever reason, to take the wrong path and it cost me dearly.”

Billy and Jodie were involved in the theft of a 9mm handgun and cash. They stashed the money and gun at their house before a swat team busted down their door.

Dawson: “You're laying on the floor in handcuffs…”

Ballenger: "Yeah."

Dawson:  “And your daughter and Jodie are in the next room. What's going through your mind?”

Ballenger: “That is the moment where you think, ‘How could I think I would never get caught?’ You know, that's that moment you have a wakeup call." 

Jodie says, “I was just thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness. Like it's all caught up to me. This is all caught up to us and what do we do now?’”

The couple was arrested and their daughter was taken into foster care.  While on bond, Billy got a job in construction.  His boss, a Christian, invited the young couple to church.

Ballenger recalls, “I remember showing up that night with the best I had, a pair of old work pants, a ripped-up Nike t-shirt. I did leave my hat in the car. I came, and I was going to hide in the back cause I felt like needles were sticking in my body all over when I walked in.

And then just before we went to trial, one night at a service there they did an altar call.  I knew I'd hit rock bottom and I was like, "I need God."

Billy and Jodie committed their lives to God, but still had to face trial.  The couple was sentenced to six years in prison.

“I was just heartbroken,” says Ballenger. “You just feel like ‘My wife – I can't hold her; I can't be with her. What have I done?’ You want to put everything in rewind – you know, reverse and redo everything, but you can't.”

Billy faithfully sent Jodie letters, telling her about his love for God and a desire to change.

Jodie says, “He changed so much that I'm like it – ‘Wow! He is like really changed!’ It was like a brand new man. I mean, he was not that old person whatsoever.”

“I credit the word of God to that because I was just saturating myself with it,” says Ballenger. “It changed me. I didn't change me. It changed the way I thought. It changed everything I did. And I said, ‘I'm not going to be violent no more, I’m not going to party no more. I'm not interested in the drugs anymore.' I just wanted my family back.’”

After the Ballengers served two years in prison, the State Board of Appeals granted them a hearing.

Ballenger says, “They brought me and my wife back to that same judge and she looked at us and she said, ‘We have decided to suspend the rest of your sentence.’ And we went home that day.”

Billy and Jodie were reunited with their daughter and resolved to live for God.

Ballenger says, “When I got out of prison, I started going to the nursing homes with my church and preaching. I had so much Word in me I'd just go somewhere and explode (SLIGHT LAUGH) you know? But then I joined the praise team. And then that desire started to come. And then when I would sing somebody would say, ‘There's something there.'"

Over the years Billy recorded seven albums and in 2020 joined the Winter Jam lineup.

Today, the Ballengers travel the country sharing their story of God’s grace told best through his song “Tree and the Nails.”

“You know, the music becomes a vehicle for the message,” says Ballenger. “God has truly redeemed us. It isn't like He just redeemed us to go to heaven, it's the fact that He cares for our entire life. It really is true. It doesn't matter how broken it was. If you're still breathing, you've still got a chance. That's what that song does. It's saying, ‘Right now is your moment.’ That's what that song says to me. And I pray that's what that song says to the people that hear it.”

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