In 2012 I posted my top ten favorite things about the Festival of Faith and Writing.  Yesterday my sister texted me, saying "I hope you'll do that again," and, as I love to hear myself talk, I guess I can do that.

When I first attended the FFW in 2012, I felt like I had found my happy place.  The kind of conference where I got to listen to smart people talk about books in interesting ways?  The kind of place where if people found out that at the age of twelve I had both a "bookwoman" sweatshirt and one that read simply "So many books, so little time," there was a chance they might NOT smile weakly and start looking around for someone less crazy to talk to? 

This year the experience was equally wonderful, but different in one particular way: this year the experience was extremely social for me. I missed sessions to continue interesting conversations.  I even skipped THE NATIONAL to be with people.  THE NATIONAL, people.  What was I thinking?

The truth is, in this weird way I kind of hate to admit - because I want to be all about presence and embodied experiences and wendell berry - the connections I've made online over the last two years are real. I am a different person because of them.  I'm more inspired and confident creatively due to the relationships I have with many people I never or rarely see in person.  When I think about the Inklings in a pub in England or the Lost Generation in cafes in Paris, I think of my writing group on Voxer.  And while I'm no C.S. Lewis or Ernest Hemingway (I do like to think of myself as a Sylvia Beach, but now's not the time to discuss that), I believe that we are finding a similar kind of creative community through the internet.

And that's why, though the sessions at the festival were great this year (and I missed a lot that I want to revisit when the audio is put online), most of my highlights were about people.

10.  Seeing one of my favorite contemporary mystery novelists, Julia Spencer Fleming, and finding her to be smart, funny, self-deprecating, grounded, and knowledgeable about her craft.  That's a person I'd like to be like in thirty years.

9. I've appreciated Luci Shaw's poetry for many years now, so it was a pleasure to finally hear her read in person.  She's eighty-five, and so stately and gorgeous, so alive and attentive to life. That's a person I'd like to be like in fifty years.

8. Miroslav Volf spoke about education and human flourishing, about how "Decisions about the life worth living are increasingly shaped by decisions about consumer goods" and "We seek to satisfy our desires without exploring what is genuinely desirable." He's smart.

7. The Taylor University creative community made me proud: We had students with their names printed on the covers of journals, and everyone was asking me, "Do you know Dan Bowman?  What has he done to your creative writing program?"  The truth is that Dan is an agent of change, an advocate not just for students, but for friends as well, and he's having significant impact.  Of course it was just fun, too, to sit and talk with students and friends, and to run into alumni and see how smart and motivated they are.

6. On Friday night my writing group had dinner with Rachel Held Evans.  It was great to reconnect with her. Rachel is kind, honest, and, as DL said, always using her platform to highlight other people's voices.  She's generous.

5. Hermeneutics hosted a really fun reception on Thursday night, and it was great to re-connect both then and throughout the weekend with some of the writers I really admire - Karen, Rachel, Katelyn, Laura, Marlena, etc.

4. Several of the regular Christ and Pop Culture writers were there!  I only got to meet them for a few minutes at lunch one day, but it was good. They are thoughtful, smart people.

3. Would you believe that when I moved to Southeast Asia ten years ago, I met a kindred spirit right away?  I knew it when I walked into her house and saw her books.  I've only seen her a handful of times since leaving Asia, but every time I see her, I find that I still want to be just like her.  Sandy and I got to spend the better part of an afternoon together catching up.

2. I met with a couple of publishers about the book I'm currently working on, and would you believe they're interested? Now I'm just preparing myself to spend the summer with an open vein, losing blood into the keyboard until my heart is on the page the way I want it to be.

1. Most of all, it was beautiful to be with my writing group. What a gift from God it is to share life with these women. I would never have believed - and I still have trouble explaining - that you can make friends online, and that they could change your life for the better.  But here's the proof.