Heeding the Call by Karl Shallowhorn

Photo credit - http://croftonparish.org.uk/sermons/gods-call-on-our-lives/

written by Karl Shallowhorn

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" 
Isaiah 6:8

I was relatively early in my addiction recovery program when I began to feel the desire to pursue counseling as a profession. The atmosphere and honest sharing I experienced in meetings were major factors in this decision. And then there was the simple concept of empathy and how that translated to a common, but often unspoken, language shared between those of us “in the rooms.”

As a result, I enrolled in the Alcoholism Counseling program at Erie Community College. It was through this program that I learned about the disease concept of addiction along with classes on individual and group counseling as well as one on assessment where we actually had to purchase a copy of the DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual), which is the publication that defines most psychiatric and addiction disorders as well as the criteria that must be met to obtain a diagnosis for a patient/client. This wasn’t an easy program.

I completed all of the requisite courses and was hired at the Buffalo General Hospital (BGH) Alcoholism Clinic (this was 1992 so alcohol and drugs fell under different treatment categories in New York State). 

I was employed for six years at BGH but mid-way through enrolled at Buffalo State again, this time to pursue a degree in Student Personnel Administration. I had a major bipolar episode prior to this which was the reasoning to pursue this new direction.

After completing my degree at Buffalo State I was hired at the college to work in the Admissions Department. This was the beginning of a twelve-year career in higher education and where I was also employed at Genesee Community College and Daemen College (a small private institution located just outside of Buffalo). 

But it was during this twelve years that I longed for the human services work I used to do. I would even go so far as saying, “I’m still a counselor at heart.” 

It was as if I was receiving a call from God to do the work that I was mean to do. As it says in Isaiah 6:8 

“Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

This was the catalyst for my eventual transition back into human services, this time to work at Horizon Health Services, a behavioral health treatment provider located in Western New York. In my 3 ½ year tenure at Horizon I worked with severely mentally ill individuals, many of whom I personally identified with due to my own lived experience.

The concept of empathy was evident to me as I engaged with those at the clinic. I saw myself in them, and them in me. It was this level of identification that I believe was, in a sense, God at work. 

However, I wasn’t quite where I wanted to be. I had aspired to work as a mental health advocate. I had done some things on my own and was trying to find a way to make a living at it. I was told by several people that there were no opportunities to do such work. But I persisted. As the scripture says in John 15:7,

“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”

I held on to the belief that this idea could work. And it did. While working at Horizon I was appointed to the Board of Directors for the Mental Health Association of Erie County. I also had made a strong connection with the Executive Director at Compeer Buffalo. These relationships eventually led me to being hired by both organizations with the shared position as Director of Community Advocacy, which I still currently hold.

Today, I am privileged to do amazing work with, and for, amazing people. I can truly say I love what I do. I got here with hard work, persistence, active networking, and a measure of faith. I believe, in my heart, that I am doing the work that God has intended me to do. This journey has been 25 years in the making and, of course, you’re getting the Cliff Notes version. I didn’t get into the times when I felt like a rudderless ship, floating in a sea of uncertainty. I didn’t share about the times I would cry because of the stress I was under. And I didn’t express how many times I was simply frustrated and wanted to give up. But I didn’t.

Maybe it’s my endurance athletic training. Or maybe it’s my late mother’s voice pushing me mercilessly. Or perhaps it’s plain stubbornness. Whatever it is, it got to where I’m at today. And I’m not finished. I believe there will be more challenges as well as more opportunities. My faith in Christ hasn’t proven me wrong yet. And with each additional experience I get a clearer picture of God’s mission for me.

So, if you are trying to find your path to whatever your appointed vocation may be, do not give up. All things are in God’s time, not ours.

Karl Shallowhorn is the Director of Community Advocacy for the Mental Health Association of Erie County and Compeer Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State and the 4th and Forever Foundation. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine.