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Disciple Diaries Episode Two: Erin Gillard’s story

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From a young age, 34-year-old Erin Gillard always harboured a deep yearning to serve God.

“I always felt God calling me to encourage people to know and love and serve him, but I didn’t know how,” she said.

Growing up a cradle Catholic, Erin first felt called to start a youth group at her local church. In her 20s, she was heavily involved with World Youth Day in her local parish in Lurnea-Campbelltown, in Sydney’s south-west.

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Even in her 30s, her desire to serve persisted. She left her job as a dietician in 2022, and began a life in ministry, as a family educator.

Her faith journey even led to the Plenary council, as a member from the Diocese of Wollongong, later that year.

Then in June 2022, Erin contracted COVID-19.

“It changed my life. I started getting great pain down into my arm,” she told The Catholic Weekly.

Even as she recovered from COVID, the severe pain in her arm persisted.

Five months of intensive scans and multiple operations to diagnose the source of this pain followed, and as Christmas approached in late 2022, Erin and her husband Kiel returned to see her doctor, expecting to hear good news.

“He said everything was looking okay and so I was just expecting to get my stitches out”, Erin said. She even brought her children Amelia 10 and James, seven.

“But the doctor turned to me, and said, ‘Erin, we need to ask your kids to sit outside.’ That’s when my stomach fell. I knew something wasn’t right,” Erin said.

Erin GIllard, husband Kiel and their two children. Photo: Supplied

She was told the pain in her arm was because of a rare cancer called low grade central osteosarcoma. She was told she would need major surgery to replace her shoulder. Painful metal pins were inserted, and her humerus replaced, to hopefully remove the cancer.

“Life changed overnight. Overnight,” Erin said. She had to re-learn how to use her arm.

“It was painful, frustrating and exhausting. And no painkiller could make it tolerable,” she said.

In the ensuing months, Erin drew strength from her faith.

“Not for one second did I worry that God was not in control during my suffering and my pain,” she said.

She wanted to go even deeper into her relationship with God. But she still wasn’t sure how.

Then she heard about a program offered by the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation called the “Called and Gifted Discernment program” offered by the Parish Renewal Team.

For three decades, it’s helped 200,000 Catholics around the world discover the special gifts given to them by the Holy Spirit. For Erin, it was revelatory.

“I came to know that I was gifted with extraordinary faith and the gift of encouragement,” she said.

“I realised I could use this pain and suffering for his glory and to share how God is there amongst us in the suffering, to encourage others and journey with them.”

The realisation that God gives “superpowers,” led to the creation of Erin’s blog, called “By His Grace and for His Glory.”

It’s her way of sharing her story and “how God is using me to share faith and to encourage others to run to God, not away, especially in time of suffering.”

“There are so many baptised Catholics and others beside who, like Erin, are seeking more to life and even more than their current experience of the faith and church,” said Daniel Ang, Director of the Sydney Centre for Evangelisation.

“The challenges and crossroads of our lives can often launch us into this search, making it somehow clearer and more urgent.

“So, it is just an enormous grace when a course, conference or event in some way connects people’s interior life, including their questions and hunger, with the life of the Gospel.

“We couldn’t hope for more than this.”

For now, surgery has successfully removed Erin’s cancer, but she requires constant rehab and regular check-ups every three months for the next decade, to ensure it hasn’t returned.

“We don’t know what the future holds for me. And as we know, cancer always tends to rear its head again,” she said.

“But if it does come back, I know that God’s got this under control, that it is in his hands and it’s all for his glory.”

For more information and to join the upcoming Called and Gifted Discernment Program commencing this April, please go to https://gomakedisciples.org.au/cas-events/

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