Editor’s note: This article is part of a series highlighting the voices of Black Latter-day Saints in honor of Black History Month. Marima Abbey Jules is the fifth child in a family of six children. She lived in Irvington, New Jersey, until she was 14 and now lives in Utah. She is studying to earn a bachelor’s degree in healthcare administration and is considering focusing on healthcare law. Abbey enjoys learning new styles of dance, content creating, and writing. Her biggest aspiration is to uplift others and to encourage them to live in their truth.
I remember when I first heard the story of the First Vision. My twin sister and I had just been introduced to the missionaries by our older sister, who had been baptized earlier, and the wondrous truth that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ appeared to 14-year-old Joseph Smith made a deep impression on me for many reasons—but perhaps especially because I saw myself in his experiences.
Joseph’s story was not so unlike mine. For the first 14 years of my life, I, too, lived in the Northeastern part of the United States. As a young teenager, I also had questions about God and religion. Of course, there were obvious differences: Rather than growing up on a small farm in upstate New York, I lived in the urban area of New Jersey. We also came from different centuries and different circumstances. But our search for truth was very much the same.
Ever since I was young, I have always been interested in evidence of God in this world. Regardless of how different we look or how varied our experiences are, I recognized His hand in His creations. But while I sensed that we are each a child of God, it wasn’t until later that I came to learn how God can guide us and that as we come to know Him, we can understand His plan for us.
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While I was growing up, my single mother was often absent as she worked strenuous hours as a nurse. My family was not particularly religious, but my mother did believe in God and Jesus Christ, and she often persuaded us to go to Catholic Church with our aunt. So while I chose to hardly practice religion, it was instilled in me that there is a higher power—and although I rarely called out to God intentionally, I believed it might be possible for Him to intervene in my life. As I grew older, that belief led to a curiosity, and I explored different religions and forms of spiritualities, believing there was a God, though He was unbeknownst and mysterious to me.
While I was on my own quest to find religion, I still trusted there was a God who loves every single one of His children and that He wants to help them. James 1:5–6, that famous verse that inspired Joseph to ask God which religion he should join, is a testament to the love God has for us. The scripture reads, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him”—a reminder that He cares for each one of His children and wants to give them the desires of their hearts.
The story of the First Vision was a stark contrast to the beneficent yet mysterious being that I grew up with, and I loved that it showed a God who cared personally for His children. But it was not just the lesson of the First Vision that truly awoke my spirit—rather it was this feeling of knowing that I received after each lesson with the missionaries. The plan of salvation led me to see the world differently. So much so, in fact, that I wanted those who didn’t yet have the opportunity to hear the gospel to feel what I felt. I even remember my innocent teenage self pulling my older sister aside after one lesson and asking sincerely if my favorite boy band would be saved, being deeply concerned that everyone would be blessed by the truth that I was coming to know.
My twin sister and I were baptized three weeks after we started taking lessons at age 14. We had just moved to Utah, and my testimony of my new faith was only strengthened when I was placed in a church community that enveloped me in love and guidance. Ever since, the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ has offered me the hope and direction I was searching for earlier in life.
That hope has guided me not only through the joys I’ve felt since my baptism but through the challenges as well. After I graduated from high school and started college, I struggled to find my place in life while also being the caretaker of my twin sister who was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. But Christ accompanied me in my grief, and through the Spirit, God comforted me continually. As I came to trust Him, the words in Doctrine and Covenants 6:15 were fulfilled to me: “I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth.” Despite the fact that I was passing through sorrow, my mind was truly enlightened by the Spirit and I was able to find peace. I also felt the truth of what President Russell M. Nelson has said, in that “the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.”
Looking back, I believe the greatest joy in the circumstances of my life has come from focusing on listening to the Spirit. One of my favorite scriptural examples of relying on and listening to the Spirit is Nephi’s words when he didn’t know how to obtain the brass plates. In 1 Nephi 4:6, he writes, “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.” Those words have made a lasting impression on me because I once thought that it was foolish to believe in something I myself did not orchestrate or was not in control of. But now I realize that trusting the Spirit is not blind by any means. Rather, it is my choice to act on the promptings and impressions I receive from the Holy Spirit. And when I choose to trust in that guidance, I find that it’s easier to take another step in faith, no matter how dark the road ahead may seem.
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I hope to leave a legacy like Nephi, where following personal revelation and spiritual impressions becomes the standard for those who come after me. I hope my example, like 14-year-old Joseph Smith’s, encourages future generations to ask God for wisdom in their struggles and to truly find their path with Christ.
Years have passed since I was first fully acquainted with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since that time, my testimony, which began as a young woman, has grown to a beautiful knowledge that Christ is the Only True Begotten Son of the Father. In those years, it was a challenge to stay close to Heavenly Father. However, I gave and continue to give myself patience and encouragement on my journey. I know now, just as I knew then, that Christ did in fact appear to Joseph Smith, causing the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ to commence. And I also have a testimony that there is a divine plan for each of God’s children, whatever our circumstances. If we allow it, the Holy Ghost will lead and guide us in our mortal journey and show us the hope the Savior has to offer—a hope that we can have for the rest of our lives.