A Masterpiece of God’s Doings
August 2023 Issue
by Jacie Elizabeth Millen
Photography by T.R. Love, T.R. Media World
“At the end of the day, it's not about what you have, or even what you have accomplished… it's about who you've lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you've given back.”
- Denzel Washington
Lillie Varner can simply be described as a steadfast, philanthropic, hospitable woman. Still walking the walk and talking the talk at 94 years old, Lillie has brought growth and kindness into others’ lives, following her heart which bleeds for God and her community, no matter where she is in life.
Born in the mountains of North Carolina, state hopping to New Jersey, to soon become a city girl of New York, and finally rekindling her love for the Carolinas, Lillie has resided in Bluffton for the last 24 years. Her career was as a licensed nurse assistant which predominantly took place in New York, Brooklyn and Queens to be exact. She moved to Brooklyn with her older sister to start her career and found her groove at Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens. Lillie constantly put her head to the test and continued studying and taking classes at York College, even after retirement, just to keep her brain sharpened. After retiring, she started looking after the elderly, but got tired of the hustle and bustle of New York and spontaneously moved to Bluffton in 1999. In 2002 Lillie applied for a home to be built by Habit for Humanity, and was approved and moved into her house Christmas of 2002. “I got moved in right before Christmas, and that was one of the best Christmases,” Lillie said.
When Lillie found her footing in Bluffton, she began volunteering at Bluffton Self Help and created a “right-hand man” position to the late Ida Martin, who founded the organization which plays a huge role in helping the community by providing food and pantry supplies, clothing, GED programs and a computer center. Being a breast cancer survivor, Lillie also volunteered with The American Cancer Society. While volunteering her time, she says she was giving back to herself.
Daily journaling has always been important to Lillie, but it began to be so much more. She started creating poems and chronicling stories of her childhood with her sister and brother—she was born in 1929. One story she still laughs about is about her brother. “Wesley couldn't stand the taste, smell, or even sight of fat on a piece of meat, even getting nauseous at the words “fat meat.” So as Annie, my sister, and I relentlessly chanted the words, a racket was stirred up, which ended in a stern moment with our mother. All good things must come to an end but it was worth the belly laughs and getting under his skin as siblings do,” Lillie smiled.
Reminiscing on all these life memories, Lillie would wake up in the middle of the night to write down her thoughts. “I was so used to working the night shift all my life, it was hard for me to go to sleep any earlier than midnight anyway,” Lillie explained. These nightly thoughts and memories helped Lillie create a book, In The Stillness of Night. The book encompasses her life and childhood, along with her feelings, emotions, and God. Lillie has always been a strong woman in her faith. She is a member at Central Oak Grove Missionary Church on Matthews Drive on Hilton Head Island, where she proudly took on the title of “Church Mother'' of the members. Her age is revered and honored; people look up to Lillie for wisdom and inspiration. There’s no wonder, as she published her book just last year, she is still driving, grocery shopping, and even using her iPhone to text and email, all at the age of 94. Lillie is a true masterpiece of God’s doings, and she is here to share her love on this earth with everyone.
“God has kept me here all these years; I must be here for a reason, just to help somebody.”
Family: Lillie has a one daughter and one son. She also has 4 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren. She thanks God every day for her family, and even though most of her family lives out of state, her daughter, Cynthia, lives just around the corner from her in Bluffton.
Helping Humanity: Last Year when Lillie fell on her back porch, Habitat for Humanity decided they would build a bigger porch for her and screen it in, making sure she had plenty of room to walk and a better outdoor space for her to enjoy, all at no cost to Lillie.
Spirit Animal: Lille has more than 300 elephant figurines. Her friend gave her the first one and said that they are good luck. That started a life-long collection.
Many thanks to the generous congregation of Central Oak Grove Missionary Church for supporting Lillie during her photoshoot.