I opened the refrigerator door, peered my head so far inside it went just past the milk . . . and yelled into the other room.

“Hey, where is the kickball?”

I had gone to bed a couple of hours before, but suddenly was awake and walking down the stairs into the dimly-lit, ceiling-fan-cooled living room where my parents were watching the news.

With only the light of the TV allowing me to see their faces, they looked at me strangely, then at each other, then at me again with the same confusion. No one said anything, so I just continued on my search-and-rescue mission into the kitchen.

“Hey, where’s the kickball?!” I yelled again, my voice echoing off the eggs, leftover meatloaf, and off-brand pop on the shelf.

My mom lightly touched my back.

Within seconds, I closed my eyes and shook my head quickly—having full knowledge of where I was and what I was doing, but having a lightning-strike new recognition that none of it made sense.

I backed my head out of the door, folded back up to standing position and locked eyes with my mom who was trying desperately not to laugh.

“I don’t think you’ll find the kickball in there,” she said in her always-kind way with an added small giggle. “You’re sleepwalking, honey.”

I nodded through my fog and allowed her hand on my back to gently guide me back to the stairs.

She walked me up and tucked me back into my bed . . . knowing that a full night’s sleep would lead me to what I was looking for: a kickball game in the alley with my friends the next day—my childhood summer happy place.

I was probably 10 or 11, and I was known for taking a dozed-off stroll every once in a while. But usually I found out about my adventures the next day through my parents’ depiction of the events over our scrambled-eggs-and-sausage breakfast, but for some reason, my vision for this trip was clear even though my thought process wasn’t functioning at full capacity.

This memory came up the other day because my 7-year-old daughter asked me about sleepwalking, and I told her this story as she giggled with her hand over her mouth through all of the details.

“Mommy, that was silly of you to be looking for a ball in the refrigerator!” she laughed. “Do you still sleepwalk?”

“If I do,” I said, “I don’t know it!”

But when I walked away from the conversation, I realized that I DID know it. Because while I don’t do much sleepwalking at night, I certainly have times I do it during the day—mindlessly walking around and searching for things in places that they would never be found. 

Searching for acceptance from people around me.

Searching for self worth on a scale.

Searching for connection in a social media scroll.

Searching for fulfillment on a store shelf.

Searching for the things that bring me joy in places that they don’t reside.

So many of us are doing it, aren’t we?

Walking a familiar path but one that doesn’t make sense or lead to what we’re looking for—not noticing that none of it makes sense until we feel the gentle touch of a supportive hand on our shoulder.

Because just like my mom guided me back up the stairs that night to the slumber she knew would transfer me to the joy of a summer day of playing kickball with my neighborhood friends . . . there is someone ready to help us to remember to get back to looking for the things we need in life in the right place when we’ve lost our way.

Maybe for you it’s your inner voice reminding you, “Stop looking to others to define your worth. Only you can do that.”

Or maybe it’s a true friend who says, “Let’s disconnect from our scroll, and reconnect over an in-person cup of coffee. It will bring us far more connection than those 25 lingering friend requests.” 

Or maybe you feel God reaching out to you saying, “Your heart won’t be fulfilled with ‘things.’ Turn to me to nourish your heart.”

Wherever that hand on our shoulder comes from, friends . . . let’s look there.

And let’s stop looking for the kickball in the refrigerator because we’ll never find it.

Brea Schmidt

Brea Schmidt is a writer, photographer and speaker who aims to generate authentic conversation about motherhood and daily life on her blog, The Thinking Branch. She also owns newborn, children and family photography business Photography by Brea. She and her husband raise their three young children in Pittsburgh, PA.