In the bottom of a big bowl, pour in a couple tablespoons each of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add a small handful of chopped fresh basil and parsley, 1 tsp of salt and a half teaspoon of black pepper. Whisk it all together. Now add about half a red onion sliced thinly and stir till the onion is coated. While you finish the rest of the chopping, the onion will mellow out a bit in the acid.
This next part can be changed up according to what you have available. French bread is good. Focaccia is good, and I usually have some leftover somewhere because it is so easy to make. Cube 4 cups of some sort of hearty bread and put it into a 300 degree oven for at least ten minutes. (If you want to be a little extravagant, drizzle it with olive oil and toss it with your hands before putting it in the oven.) It does not need to brown, just dry out a little, and then it needs to cool while you do the rest of the chopping.
Now peel, halve lengthwise, seed, and slice enough cucumbers to make about 4 cups. Throw that on top of the onion-dressing mixture, but don't mix it up yet. Dice a large red pepper and throw that in. Chop 3 or 4 tomatoes and add them. Now drain the tuna and add it in chunks to the bowl, along with a two or three ounces of cubed feta cheese and a quarter cup of chopped Kalamata olives. Toss the whole thing and let it sit a few minutes. Between the tomatoes and the cucumbers, it should begin to exude a lot more liquid than you first put in there. (Note: the tuna is not an ordinary part of panzanella and you can leave it out if you wish. I added it to make it more of a complete meal.)
Finally, add the cooled bread cubes and toss. Yes, it will look like it's mostly bread, but it really isn't. Once that bread starts to soak up the juices it will begin to shrink a bit. Sit down and eat immediately. The bread will be half soaked and half crunchy, which is perfect. The more you eat, the more you will want to eat. That first meal of this year's bounty was the best thing I had eaten in months. Especially those bread cubes.
And now you are waiting for the spiritual lesson I somehow manage to find in the most mundane things, right? Usually I can come up with something in a day or two, if not right away. Well, I have been looking for it for over a month now and it still hasn't come to me. I have made lessons out of everything from chicken and dumplings to cherry pies, from shedding dogs to dead possums, but for some reason this panzanella has evaded me. But today I suddenly thought—maybe that's the lesson!
I am big on finding a purpose in your life that will help promote God's plan to save man. If you have studied my Born of a Woman class book you know that. My purpose in God's plan may be as simple as the Samaritan woman's, who ran and told her neighbors, Come see a man who told me all the things I ever did. Can this be the Christ? (John 4:29). Or it may be as complex as Joseph's, who over 20 years' time and the freewill actions of a couple dozen different people managed to be in a position to save God's chosen nation, and more specifically, the line of the Messiah. …For God sent me before you to preserve life (Gen 45:5). God does intervene in our lives through the freewill actions of others and in His great power and wisdom makes things happen according to His will.
Some of our purposes are fixed by the choices we make. When I marry, I have the obligation to be a helper to my husband, helping him get to Heaven being the most important. When I choose to have children, I have placed upon myself the divine purpose of raising those children "in the nurture and admonition of the Lord."
But sometimes things just happen. Sometimes it may even be a result of someone else's poor decision. Like the man who decides he is not too drunk to drive and crashes into a minivan filled with a family of five, or runs down an innocent pedestrian. My part in God's plan has suddenly changed if I survive that. Now I have the opportunity to show His grace by the way I handle this adversity, by the way I refuse to give in to despondency, by the way I forgive, and a host of other things.
And this may be the hardest thing to accept: sometimes there is absolutely no rhyme nor reason for any of it. I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all. (Eccl 9:11).
I hear people giving comfort I am not sure they should give. "God has a plan," we tell our distraught friends. Yes, He does, but do not be so arrogant as to presume that you know exactly what it is or that this tragedy is even part of it. As much as I believe that God will use what I do to further His plan, I would never decide for Him what that use should be. I would never assume that my feeble mind can even begin to comprehend His glorious thoughts. And I would never, ever tell someone who has experienced a calamity that this is God's Eternal Purpose at work. The only thing I could ever be sure of is that this is my chance to comfort a soul, and I would do that the best I could.
It may be admirable to constantly try to find the spiritual benefit in every little thing that comes along. In fact, I hope it is. It is certainly better than thinking evil, or even idle thoughts all the time. But sometimes panzanella is just panzanella. Nothing more and nothing less. Just a tasty salad that reminded me to thank God, not only for his great and marvelous plan to save us, but for the simple things that make this sin-cursed world a little easier to bear, too.
Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established. The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble. Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the LORD; be assured, he will not go unpunished. (Prov 16:3-5)