Who are you?

The most popular books in our store are ones about the afterlife. Whether news-aggregate sites (such as ours), mainstream news sites, or blogs, others find the same. For good reason: nothing is more fascinating than the hereafter, nor as useful than knowing about it, for we all die. And few things are more informative on how to prepare for that eventuality -- that glorious transition -- as well as how to live life now, than near-death experiences.

In a new one, Imagine Heaven, by Christian researcher John Burke, the important point is made that when we die, we meet many people we knew during our time on earth, especially deceased loved ones. Some say we meet ancestors going back to the beginning of time. But the first person we meet, besides the Lord, is our true selves.

Says a woman named Crystal, who "coded" due to complications from pancreatitis and "left her body" for nine minutes:

"Unlike earth, where I was plagued by doubts and fears, in Heaven there was nothing but absolute certainty about who I was. This was a far more complete representation of my spirit and my heart and my being than was ever possible on earth, a far deeper self-awareness than the collection of hopes and fears and dreams and scars that defined me during my life. I was flooded with self-knowledge, and all the junk that cluttered my identity on earth instantly fell away, revealing, for the first time ever, the real me. 'Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you,' God says in Jeremiah  1:5. And now I knew myself. Imagine that -- the first person we meet in Heaven is ourselves."

We hear this from others who "passed" but returned. And so we must ask: who defines us? What do we allow to be heaped upon us during life? What delusions might be distorting our views? Is there falsity in our most basic concepts? Do we pray every day to the Holy Spirit for the spirit of truth?

Many jump to conclusions without praying to really know the answer and so delusions -- and false personal perceptions, as well as false impressions of others -- accrue. As Burke himself notes, "Most of us end up believing things about our identity that are not grounded in God's reality -- of who God created us to be, what God created us to do. We believe lies about our identity that the evils of this world inflict upon us. We constantly worry about the opinions or approval of others. We experience intense anxiety when we're not succeeding or are not recognized for our accomplishments. We feel sick inside when the stock market drops or we don't get promoted. We find ourselves lowering our standards to new levels, then justifying it in order to prove our worth or get someone to love us. We feel the need to control our spouse or our kids because our identity has somehow gotten wrapped up in what others think or do."

How many preconceptions do you possess? How rapidly do you form ideas? Do you know as much as you think you know, including about yourself? What is your worth? What is your purpose? Who have you given the right to define who you are? Ask the Holy Spirit about this. Ask the Blessed Mother to undo all the knots you have tied yourself in, or allowed others to tie around the real you.

For if you still care more about what others think of you than what God does -- if you spend more time fretting over the opinion of earthly people than heavenly ones -- you need to "think" anew. The Lord sets you free with the truth.

It's a good issue to mull over before the holidays, when so many interactions with others brings so many things that can be heaped on us (if we allow them to). When we have pride, the falsity around us becomes worse. We fear what others think of us all the more frequently. A humble soul -- one oriented entirely to Christ -- is like a finely waxed car: rain -- an ill though from another -- rolls right off. Without "wax," there is rust; there is a diminishing; the paint fades. The original aspect is no longer apparent. As Gary Wood, another who had a near-death brush, said he was instructed by the Lord, "Tell people they are special and unique, each one. God made every one of His children to have a Divine purpose, which only they can accomplish on earth." Don't divert by trying to be somebody else.

"Knowing how God sees you sets you free to accomplish things God created you to accomplish," says author Burke. "It sets you free to use your unique gifts, time, and resources to make an impact that lasts for eternity." If you define yourself by possessions, you are not being who you were made to be. Every person has a gift and we all have different ones and should not compare what we were given but make the most of the gift we have. Every person has something equal to contribute through these gifts but when -- unsure of our identity, or befuddled by it -- we seek the gifts of others, we stumble on the road to Heaven (missing our mission). We dilute our purpose.

Be content with your gift. It is equal to any given to another. This too will be seen "on the other side": how you contribute or don't contribute to His Plan in ways you can't imagine, based on your gift. That gift could be the gift of smiling, or of generosity, of maternity, or paternity, of intellect, or prayer, or carpentry.

Find yours and stick with it and you have your purpose, drawing closer, even before death, to who you really are.

[resources: Imagine Heaven and Undoer of Knots rosary, book]

[see also: what saints said about Heaven]