I rode up with a friend of mine, but she wasn’t attending the festival. She’s visiting her sister here in Grand Rapids. Another friend of hers was going to be at the festival, but I’d never met the friend of my friend.What I’m trying to say is that I came alone.And a mom of four doesn’t go places alone very often.So as I rode the shuttle bus from the hotel to the college on that first morning, I felt I was forgetting something. I’d pat my backpack to be sure I could feel my cell phone in the front pocket.Check. I’d stick my hand in my front pocket to be sure my room key was in there.Check.Camera?Check.Campus maps?Check.Water bottle? Laptop? Wallet? Check. Check. Check.Then it occurred to me:Kids?uh oh….where are the kids? Oh, that’s right. I’m alone.Friends?Nope.I’m kidless and girlfriendless.The nice couple riding next to me on the bus struck up a conversation with me, asking if I was here with a group, and I had to say, “No, I’m here alone. I know just three people here on campus. Two people who work here, and their son, a student. That’s it.”The bus lurched as it made a cumbersome turn to the right onto the campus. Just at that moment, I looked out the front windshield and saw the son, walking along the sidewalk! I waved my arms and tried to catch his eye, but he didn’t see me.Andrea commented on my last post, saying that L.L. Barkat would be here. I’ve visited her blog and noticed her comments here and there on the blogosphere. I’d read something she wrote and think, “Ohhhh….she’s so insightful.” But I didn’t know her at all.Then I got it in my head that it would be fun to meet her in person. Plus, she has just published a book, so that would be fun to celebrate with her! Her first book, entitled Stone Crossings, was just released April 1st. But how could I meet her? There’s no photo of her on her blog, so I had no idea what she looks like.I stopped by the InterVarsity Press table in the vendors’ area and bought a copy of the book. As I signed my receipt, I asked one of the ladies there, “Have you ever seen this author?””Yes.””What does she look like?”They told me her hair color and did their best to add a distinguishing detail or two, so I started looking for someone who fit that description. I tried to read the nametags as I passed women with the correct hair color. It’s hard to do that without looking too weird. I gave up after a while.The first events were readings from authors who were new to the festival. I glanced at the names, but didn’t recognize any of them. Shauna Niequist was one of them. I didn’t know anything about her except what was included in her short bio, but those few words caught my eye. I saw that she had been part of Willow Creek, though she’s in Michigan now. In my long-ago past, I spent many years road-tripping to Willow Creek to sit in on conferences and services, so I felt a tiny connection with Shauna–a Willow tie. Plus, her book title was Cold Tangerines and the cover was bold and, of course, orange. Could be fun, I thought.Hardly anyone was there when I showed up just a few minutes before she was to begin. I sat just behind her. She looked at me, so I smiled and stuck out my hand.”Hi! I’m Ann.””I’m Shauna. Pleased to meet you!””Nice to meet you, too–I see that you were involved with Willow Creek. Do you know…” and I listed some names. She knew them all. Two of them quite well. So I felt like I’d made a little connection.”So you’re in Michigan now?” I asked.”Yes, my husband is on staff with Mars Hill.””Oh, Wow!” I said. “Well, I’m really looking forward to your reading!””Thank you,” she said. Then she went to the podium and opened her book. She read and interrupted herself to include spontaneous, endearing, witty commentary or disclaimers. She’s bright and intelligent, while remaining accessible and casual.And as she continued to read and I picked up on some details, it slowly occurred to me…hey….wait…a…minute…She said her son’s name was Henry, and I remember reading somewhere that….Bill Hybels’ grandson’s name….is….Henry…..Oh, brother. I’m such a dope. This is no ordinary Willow Creeker.Shauna is Bill Hybels’ daughter.Thunk. That’s me hitting my forehead with the palm of my hand. Duh. Of course.So I determined, like every true blogger, to snap a picture of us together so I could tell the story here. As soon as it was over, I got a little carried away. I couldn’t scoot past the people in the row next to me, so I spontaneously stepped up over the chair in front of me. So uncivilized.But I did have someone snap a picture.Here I am with Shauna, author of Cold Tangerines and cradle Willow Creeker.Opening session with Mary Gordon, I’m up in the balcony. I look over and see a face and name I recognized from the Internet. I don’t know him personally, but I was just feeling bold and nutty. “I know you,” said, extended my hand. “I’ve seen your name, at least, and I recognize your face from online….”I introduced myself and asked if they would let me snap a photo. They humored me. I almost didn’t include it, though, because my photography was so terrible. But I told them I would. So here it is, over-exposed and out-of-focus.J. Mark Bertrand and Christopher Fisher. That’s all the interaction I had with those guys. J. Mark Bertrand has a book that either just came out or is about to be released called Rethinking Worldview: Learning to Think, Live, and Speak in This World.Then I chose to attend, “Writing for Faithful Readers: Davis Bunn and Francine Rivers in Conversation.” This whole conversation format is nice enough, I guess. It’s personable. We get to know the person a little bit, maybe, but we don’t get a lot of content. I found myself wishing for more structure. These people didn’t prepare for those sessions–they just showed up. So I don’t have much to offer you in terms of quotable quotes.Later, I was crossing the pedestrian bridge suspended above a four-lane road, not expecting anything in particular, when all of a sudden, Anna, from Hope Road, walked toward me saying, “You’re Ann! Ann Kroeker!” She recognized my face from my blog.I squealed, I was so happy to see a familiar face. “Oh! You’re Anna! Oh, it’s so amazing to meet you in person!”After I calmed down a little over meeting her, I asked who she was looking forward to seeing here. “I want to see Lisa McKay,” she said, and some others.I decided to try taking a picture of the two of us, and I was laughing too hard and leaning weird. So I said, “Let’s get someone else to take it for us, shall we? (seeing someone coming my way) Excuse me, could you snap a picture of the two of us?”It was Lisa McKay! The very person Anna wanted to meet! I didn’t know who she was, but it was especially fun for Anna. I thought the timing was uncanny.So this picture of Anna and me was snapped by Lisa McKay.I thanked Lisa and then, as I turned back to Anna to ask her another question, someone came up behind me and said my name.It was a friend of mine, Quaker author B. Brent Bill. We met through a mutual friend at a writing event near home and have overlapped at several other writer-type gatherings. Brent is a kind and humble man who has written many books and just had yet another released through Paraclete Press called Sacred Compass.Here’s the photo that Anna snapped of Brent and me.Anna excused herself, suggesting that we try to meet up again for coffee. But I didn’t get a cell number, and I haven’t seen her since.Brent and I chatted for a few minutes.Then I saw someone approaching me who fit the L.L. Barkat description. I looked at the nametag.Bingo!She prefers no publically posted photos, and so to be on the safe side, I chose not to describe her in detail. So instead of presenting you with a snapshot of L.L. Barkat, here’s a snapshot that L.L. Barkat took of me in that same spot on that same pedestrian bridge.That’s where I’ll stop, but there are more stories to come. I met more people and took a few more pictures.So I came alone, but I’m meeting new people…and making a few new friends.