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A woodworking retirement

Retiree Stuart McClendon uses his carpentry skills to help others and tell them about Jesus

Stuart McLendon Guy Lyons/Genesis

A woodworking retirement
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Stuart McClendon demonstrates an “assisted rocker” he designed for a nursing home—the rockers are flat at the front to prevent tipping the occupant onto the floor when exiting the chair. McClendon rocks forward, presses his hands down on the arms of the chair, and lifts his entire body out of the seat. He smiles as his feet hang suspended for a moment, then carefully stands. At nearly 86 years of age, his legs give him a little trouble, but his arms remain strong.

A retired lawyer and self-taught carpenter, McClendon spends his days building furniture and leading Bible studies at the Bar-J Ranch in Calion, Ark. McClendon’s retirement is far from the textbook definition of “ceasing to work:” A table near the front of the shop serves as a landing place for whatever project is in process—one day it’s a chair without legs, another day a bookshelf without varnish. He leads Bible study on the ranch in the mornings and teaches in other churches in the evenings.

Growing up in New Orleans, he viewed attending church as a weekly social engagement and respected Scripture, though he did not own a Bible. But when friends invited him and his wife, Lillian, to visit a church “where they taught the Bible,” he wasn’t sure what to expect. When the pastor presented the gospel that day, it was the first time he’d heard that he was a sinner in need of a Savior. Tears ran down his face. He was 26 years old—a young husband and father, a lawyer with a brief failed political career—and it was the best day of his life. “There was no struggle, no fighting.”

Over the next five decades, McClendon and his wife hosted Bible studies and retreats at their 30-acre home and property near Covington, La. After building a shop on his land, he took up furniture-making: “I needed to use the shop for something!” What began as a hobby became a successful furniture business. Mostly he crafted swings and chairs made from sunken cypress logs removed from Louisiana waterways. He named the business Honey Rock, a reference to Psalm 81:16—“With honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

That’s what I want to do … finish strong.

Retirement age came and went for McClendon, and still he practiced law, led Bible studies in his home and in corporate settings, and made furniture. When a friend in South Arkansas invited him and Lillian (then in their early 70s) to build a shop and home on his property, a working ranch with an addiction recovery program, Stuart believed it was “definitely the Lord [saying,] ‘I’ve got a place for you … where you can finish strong.’

“And that’s what I want to do … finish strong.”

Guy Lyons/Genesis

While moving their belongings from south Louisiana to the Bar-J Ranch, McClendon’s wife suffered a debilitating stroke and died. After this blow, the log cabin they were building across from the shop was set on fire by an individual in the ranch’s recovery program. McClendon sat on the front porch of his shop, under the alpha and omega characters worked into the decorative trim overhead, and drank coffee while the cabin burned to the ground.

Even after these events, McClendon said, he’s never regretted coming to the ranch. “These things that have happened—they’re just things. God un-messes the mess.” This is the message he shares with individuals in Bar-J’s 13-month recovery program and with his furniture customers.

He credits the Lord for bringing him order after order for furniture, but he says his ultimate purpose is to make not furniture but disciples. At the front of his shop is a small seating area with an ever-changing collection of chairs for sale. A sign hangs overhead—SITTING IS BELIEVING. It’s a motto for his furniture business, but also true for those who stop, visit with McClendon, and hear the good news that Jesus came to save sinners.

Julie Spencer Julie is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute midcareer course.


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