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‘God will reach down and lift you up’

November 4, 2020

Editor’s note: The following is an installment of an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Darcy Fargo

NORWOOD – For Melody Levison of Norwood, the journey of faith started with a love of breakfast.

“I had a conversion experience over 40 years ago,” said Levison. “It totally effected everything for both me and my husband. I was brought up Protestant, but not really religious. I was baptized in a Presbyterian church. In my teen years, I went with neighbors to a Baptist church. At around age 11 or 12, there was one of those moments when they had people come forward to give their lives to Jesus. I did it, but it didn’t really affect me. I met my husband, and I became Catholic.”

Though she joined the Catholic Church, Levison said she wasn’t an active participant in the faith.

“We were the kind of Catholics who went to church, and that was pretty much it,” she said. “Sometimes, we’d even go to daily Mass. But we weren’t involved. In fact, there was a time when my husband, Johnny (now Deacon John Levison), was asked to help take up the collection. After that, we sat closer to the front and off to one side. He didn’t want to be asked again.”

Then, a friend invited the Levisons to a breakfast gathering of Christians.

“He kept asking us to go to this breakfast,” Levison said. “He wanted us to go and hear people speak. We never went. He kept saying he wanted us to go. I like breakfast out. I like going out to eat. So, we decided we’d go.”
At the breakfast, there were attendees of all different Christian denominations.

“Everyone was so happy and so friendly,” Levison said. “I was thinking, ‘what is going on with these people?’”

The Levisons heard a speaker talk about the Temple in the desert, and they were encouraged to “come inside where the glory of the Lord is.”

A speaker led the breakfast gathering in prayer and encouraged attendees to bow their heads and raise their hands if they wanted to accept Jesus.

“I raised my hand,” Levison said. “My husband sees me raise my hand, and he’s thinking, ‘what is she doing? She’s not going somewhere I don’t.’ So, he raised his hand, too. We went up at the end, and they said a little prayer, and they gave us a book – the Gospel of John. They told us to go home and read it.”

Levison said she went home and tossed her copy of the book on the couple’s bed.

“My husband said, ‘we have to read it. I think we should read it,’” she said. “I took my book into the bedroom, and he was in the living room. Reading it, it all made sense. I had tried to read the Bible before, but it never made sense to me. Suddenly, it just clicked. I understood what it was talking about. It clicked with Johnny, too. I came out of the bedroom, and I was telling him, ‘look at this! Listen to this!’ He said, ‘I know! And look at this!’ It was like we were both hit by the Holy Spirit at the same time.”

Shortly after, the couple was contacted by a Protestant minister who had attended the breakfast. He wanted to visit the couple to pray for the gift of the Spirit. Hearing about the minister’s pending visit, a Catholic friend decided to join in the prayer session.

“The minister prayed over both of us for the gift of the Spirit,” Levison said. “The minister went home, and our friend went home. My husband woke up the next day at 5 in the morning to pray, and he started speaking in tongues.”

Levison said she, too, wanted the gift of speaking in tongues.

“Nothing happened for me,” she said. “I thought, ‘it can’t be God likes me as much.’ Other people suggested, do this or do that, as I tried to get that gift. Johnny said, ‘just ask Him.’ I stayed up every night asking to speak in tongues.”

After a while of asking for the gift, Levison said she finally “decided to give it one more night.”

“I was kneeling in the living room and begging for the gift of tongues,” she said. “I kept telling God, ‘I’m just too inhibited. I said that over and over. Eventually, I realized what I was saying wasn’t in English. I had the gift of tongues.”

The Levisons soon became involved in a charismatic prayer group.

“I started meeting with a wonderful priest in Potsdam, Msgr. (William J.) Argy,” Levison said. “I had questions about the faith, and he answered them for me. He became my spiritual director.”

When Msgr. Argy left the area, Msgr. Floyd J. Brown became her spiritual director, followed by Father James W. “Jay” Seymour.

“I’ve been very blessed,” she said. “Our lives were very grounded as Catholics because of the spiritual direction.”

After her conversion experience, Levison began teaching religious education. The couple also learned about tithing and began observing the practice of giving 10 percent of their income.

“Our conversion changed everything, even our finances,” Levison said. “I’d say it switched our finances around in a shocking way. We went from giving $5 a week to 10 percent. And we got involved in the Church.”

Soon, Levison found herself sitting on church committees, participating in the choir and even learning to play guitar to lead music for the charismatic prayer group.

“In the ‘90s, our priest at the time asked if I’d lead the folk choir,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a leader, but I did it. I ended up doing it for nine years or so. It was a wonderful experience.”

It was around that time when her husband became a deacon. The couple later moved to Ellenburg, as Deacon Levison began working in prison ministry in that area.

“After about a year there, I asked the priest if he wanted a folk choir,” she said. “He said ‘I would love one.’ We got a folk choir there. It was rough in the beginning. None of the kids had ever done it. We developed, and they got quite good.”

Levison also started volunteering in the prison system, also in music ministry.

“That was really good for me,” she said. “It’s easy to get an idea in your head about what prisoners are like. Volunteering helped me realize they’re like everyone else. There were really good guys who had just made mistakes in their lives, and there were some that were not so good. It’s just like the regular population.”

After years in the music ministry, Levison said she reached a point where she needed a break.

“It was then that the bishop came out with a call for people who were interested in becoming spiritual directors,” she said. “I love one-on-one interactions, and I thought I’d really love that, but I didn’t want to ask to do it. I figured if God wanted me to do it, it would work out. Then, Father Jay (Seymour) called and asked if I was interested in the program.”

Now, Levison provides spiritual direction for three area residents.

Though she helps others with their spiritual lives, Levison notes she still has to focus on developing her relationship with the Lord.

She and her husband pray the rosary together daily. Levison also maintains a prayer journal. She said the Eucharist is also an important part of her life. She’s also studied the lives of the saints, especially St. Therese of Lisieux.

“I’ve been devouring her writing and writing about her,” Levison said. “She showed me that the weaker you are, the more God will reach down and lift you up like a small child. It’s about trusting God. Even with that, I sometimes fall down. But I trust God to bring me to where I need to be, even if it’s bringing me to a place where I can trust Him.”

And Levison said that faith and trust keep her grounded and keep her moving forward.

“All my hopes and dreams are because I believe in eternal life, and I believe God is in control,” she said.

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