By KATIE EUBANKS
When Libbo Crosswhite thinks of Valentine’s Day, she thinks of when Clay, her now husband, brought her roses in eighth grade.
“He made sure to tell me there were only 11 and they were on sale.”
The following year, when all their classmates at Madison-Ridgeland Academy were saying “I love you” to each other, Libbo and Clay were sitting on the swings at Strawberry Patch Park, and Clay asked if they could talk.
“I thought, ‘This is it!’” Libbo says. “Then he said, ‘I don’t love you … I don’t even know what love is.’”
“We didn’t leave that day on good terms,” Clay says.
But now Libbo appreciates that even at 15, he was honest with her. “He is who he says he is.”
That same authenticity still marks Clay, a physical therapist at Mississippi Sports Medicine, and Libbo, high-school guidance counselor at MRA. They don’t use all the perfect Instagram filters, pretend to be a perfect couple, or sprint to keep up with trends.
“God gives us the freedom to be normal,” Libbo says. “It’s really beautiful to just have a simple life.”
‘You should marry that guy’
Clay grew up in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and was dedicated in the Methodist church at 8 years old. When she was 7, Libbo lost her father to brain cancer, an event that would shape her for decades to come.
A few years later, when Clay was in sixth grade, his family moved to Brandon. He and Libbo met at MRA.
“I still remember walking into Mrs. Steveline’s English class and seeing Clay and thinking, ‘Who is that kid?’” Libbo recalls. “He said ‘yaller’ instead of ‘yellow.’”
They dated all through high school, did everything together. Along the way, they both started pursuing a real relationship with Jesus. Finally, it was time for college.
“I think one thing that saved our relationship was the fact that she went to Mississippi State, and I went to Mississippi College,” Clay says.
“She got a whole friend group who knew her as Libbo, separate from me, (and vice versa). Because we were always ‘Libbo and Clay’ (before that). I don’t think we would’ve married each other if we’d gone to the same college.”
“Absolutely not,” Libbo agrees. “We were able to be who God wanted us to be separately.”
f Freshman year was “very difficult” for Clay, he says. “We were apart, I was trying to find my friend group. (But) I got plugged into FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes), and the leader at the time was Bill Buckley, who was a huge influence on me … as I got older and matured in my faith. That was a turning point.” Meanwhile, Libbo also drew closer to Christ via Reformed University Fellowship at Mississippi State.
While their relationships with Jesus were maturing, their long-distance relationship with each other was tough. They broke up during theirjunior year.
Soon after the breakup, “my friends and I got a wild hair to come to the Jackson fair,” Libbo says. The group drove to Jackson and parked at the Waffle House on High Street, across from the fairgrounds. “We didn’t know you weren’t allowed to park there. There was a sign, but it was really small.”
After the fair, the vehicle had been towed. Nobody had the cash to get the car back, and nobody wanted to call their parents, who were blissfully ignorant of their kids’ shenanigans.
Ultimately, Libbo called Clay. Her recent ex-boyfriend.
“So Clay drives from Clinton to Jackson, takes the cash out of his birthday card — ”
“From my grandmother,” he adds.
“And afterward, one of my friends goes, ‘I don’t know a lot … but you should marry that guy.’”
After about six months apart, Libbo and Clay went to Fratesi’s restaurant in Ridgeland, and he said, “If we get back together, we’re never breaking up.”
Neither of them remembers when they first said “I love you” – but when they said it that night at Fratesi’s, it was “the first time I remember it being the real deal and meaning forever!” Libbo recalls.
Role models and grill explosions
When Libbo and Clay got married, “I didn’t just gain a husband, I gained a dad, too,” Libbo recalls. “Clay’s dad truly has been my dad since high school, for all intents and purposes.
“His parents have played a crucial role in us seeing what it looks like to have a God-fearing, real marriage.”
The Crosswhites are also grateful for other families they’ve seen in action. When Libbo was a kid, her Young Life leader Jan Moncrief would always get a kiss on the cheek from her husband when he got in from work — even when she had a dozen girls with her in the living room.
Of course, every couple has their struggles. It’s not all kisses on the cheek.
“One thing we are learning right now is … we can find ourselves avoiding difficult conversations,” Libbo says. She shares another anecdote:
Libbo was preparing to host a shower at their home. Clay said he’d clean up the backyard, but they didn’t talk about exactly what that meant, and he didn’t do it to her satisfaction. (“The shower was inside,” he points out during the retelling.)
“So I went out there, and I saw some ant spray and some other stuff on the porch, and I just put it in the grill and closed the lid, and thought, I’ll put that away later,” Libbo says. “And we didn’t talk about it.”
The next day, Clay came home from a duck hunt and offered to make duck poppers on the grill. Libbo enthusiastically agreed. He turned on the grill …
“And then I hear this explosion, and I’m like, ‘What was that?’ And almost immediately, I realized what I had done,” she says.
Clay’s friends had gotten him some grilling tools made of deer antlers. The tools technically “survived” the explosion, but they were never the same.
“He left the house (when that happened). It was a whole thing,” Libbo says. “But that was just a really funny example of how you can’t keep stuffing (hard conversations) under the grill … or it’s going to blow up in your face.”
She and Clay say community with other Christian couples is also crucial for making marriage work, as is putting God at the center of decisions and trusting Him for the outcome. After all, He’s used every situation for good — from the Crosswhite family’s move to Brandon, to Libbo and Clay attending different colleges.
At the end of the day, they’ve got to live with each other — two flawed humans with a sin nature. But they know God will keep using everything to make them more like Him.
“I think (it’s about) giving both of ourselves grace,” Libbo says. “We’re still trying to figure it out.”