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Alice Carwardine’s Lenten promise was to let nothing go to waste and it changed her life

Alice Carwardine: “I think I just felt really helpless, and I think a lot of people feel that way.”

ALICE Carwardine’s husband thought she was “just going through a phase”. How wrong he was.

Forty days has turned into a whole new lifestyle. And James Carwardine is fully on board with his wife’s decision.

Then again, it’s not about just one decision, but a whole lot of little ones.

It’s all about adapting their lives to heed the call Pope Francis outlined in his cornerstone document Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home.

The young Brisbane couple are now tackling one of their big decisions – buying a house – and Laudato Si’ teachings are a major factor in that.

“We’re trying to make sure that the way that we live in our new house is going to have a really small carbon footprint so that we can reduce our impact on the environment,” Alice, 24, a maths and physics teacher at Carmel College, Thornlands.

Once they’re established in their house, Alice is keen to open their home to show visitors “how living zero-waste and living Laudato Si’ can work” practically.

The 40 days that were the turning point for Alice – and for James as it turned out – were part of a Lenten exercise.

“In 2018, for Lent, for 40 days, I tried not to put anything in my bin,” Alice said.

“Inspired by the work of Laudato Si’ I decided that I was going to go zero-waste, and found that … Lent didn’t really finish for me.

“I kept my Lenten promise after Lent was done.

“It’s become a bigger thing for me now; it’s not just about being zero-waste.

“It’s everything; it’s how I shop, it’s where I go to shop, it’s who I will choose to shop from, it’s the choices that I make, even in … making a decision to buy a house that has solar panels and all of that sort of stuff …”

Those little choices are in line with the conversion of heart that Pope Francis talks about in Laudato Si’ to respond to “the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor”.

“Originally, James thought I was going through a phase. Way back in the beginning, he did,” Alice said.

“He sort of thought, ‘After Lent, she won’t want to do this anymore …’

“But when he understood … when he could see and he understood that the changes that we made were not that big in hindsight (he knew it was more than just a phase).

“They were small steps along the way, and he understood that those actions were really important and that we could continue to do that afterwards.”

A particular moment during Alice’s waste-free Lent was a decisive one.

She was driving home from Mass one Sunday morning feeling angry.

“I think I just felt really helpless, and I think a lot of people feel that way,” she said.

“I think they see this environmental crisis, or the climate crisis – they see it as this huge, massive problem.

“And that’s what it is; it’s a huge, massive problem.

“But because of its enormity they can’t see how little things can be changed and I think on that drive home I just realised it was God telling me you just have to start with one thing.

“You just have to start somewhere.

“And that made all the difference.”

“Starting somewhere” has led to Alice cutting back to teaching part-time this year so she can establish her own project to help others to take the little steps in living Laudato Si’.

She has her own website, Overturn the Tables, with practical tips on living an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, reflections on Laudato Si’, and resources; and she’s offering workshops for schools and parishes (post-coronavirus).

Alice remembers another pivotal moment from 2018.

“It was partly through Lent, I had this moment,” she said.

“The name of my business is called ‘Over the Tables’ for a reason.

“I was having issues with my compost, … and it was stressing me out, and I went to work the next day and I was so tired and upset.

“Then we were doing a Lenten program and reading the Scripture where Jesus goes into the Temple and he overturns the tables of the money-changers …, and in that passage I was like ‘God’s doing that to me. That’s what’s happening here, … Jesus has come into my life and He’s telling me, ‘No, you’ve got to turn over the tables, and you’ve got to start again, and you have to really think about the culture that’s happening, that throwaway culture, you’ve got to change that’.

“It was really profound, a really profound moment.”

Alice felt called to share her experience about living Laudato Si’.

She said she needed that time of reflection to be able to see how she needed to change.

“Really, from Laudato Si’, the words ‘throwaway culture’ that Pope Francis talks about, that really spoke to me in terms of what my life felt like,” she said.

“It felt like I was just using something and then just throwing it away … and (then buying) a few more things, and throw those away.”

And even in her interactions with people, she realised she needed to be paying more attention and valuing them more before moving on to the next experience.

It’s been life-changing, and “the more I come back to the document, as I know lots of other people find as well, the more I find in it”.

“The more it speaks to me, the more I find different things, and different ways to live and to make my life better for God,” Alice said.

“At the heart of (a commitment to living Laudato Si’) I think it’s still, for me, just about seeing God’s creation for what it is.

“It’s all for Him. All of my actions are for His creation …

“Those messages and that drive that we get from all those external sources – to have more, to be seen to be doing more – all of that sort of stuff is so not what God sees.

“He sees what things really are like, and that’s what drives me.”

And she’s driven now to share her experience with others.

She said when she runs a workshop for school groups, some people can see the title of her project, Overturn the Tables, and be concerned that she would be out to convince them to make wholesale changes to their lives.

“But when I’m able to speak with them and show them that it’s really this step-by-step, little-bit-by-little-bit process it’s much better for them to wrap their heads around it,” she said.

“And the conversations that we have around that, they’re such big conversations and they see that we need to talk about the challenges that we face in overcoming a goal because we need to work through those challenges step by step, and it’s really time to make this big problem into something that’s manageable.

“I really hope that I can help other people on this step-by-step journey to helping the environment, because I think we all need to do it.

“It’s coming, it’s here, climate change is here, and we all ought to be doing just those little things about it, and I’d love to be able to help people to do that.”

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