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‘I was grateful to open my heart up again’

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BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY
Special to the Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

NATALYA AND KEENAN WINTERS

Live: Pelham

Married: June 13, 2014

Met: At Miles College in 2006 in their American Government class. At the time, Natalya was involved with another relationship and unaware of Keenan; however, he was aware of her status.

“I asked her friend Courtney about her, and she told me that she had a boyfriend at the time so I didn’t say anything to her,” said Keenan, who would later send Natalya a [Facebook] message. She didn’t respond for eight months.

“And then I saw her one night at the Purple Onion [on the Southside], just standing outside and I was afraid to talk to her because she didn’t respond to my message…,” Keenan recalled. Natalya agreed with Keenan’s recollections. 

“He mentioned he’d noticed me a couple of times out because we’re both affiliated with a Greek organization, he’s an Alpha and I’m a Delta,… and at the time I was living in Arkansas, and then he sent me a message asking for my number, and ‘unintentionally’, I did not give it to him for eight months,” she laughed. “I came back across the message, and I was like ‘oh, here you go’ and shot him my number,” Natalya said.  

First date: Spring 2008, they went bowling at Riverview Bowl on Highway 280. 

“It was a good time, she was smiling it was good energy, good synergy and we were just having fun. She was happy, fun, and funny,” Keenan said.

Natalya said she had just moved back to Birmingham and was fresh out of a relationship “so I was really taking it slow and just wanted to see how things would go. He smelled good, Keenan has always worn very nice cologne,” she said. “Bowling is his thing, he bowls in a league, his father bowled, it’s like a Chicago thing with him and his dad growing up, so he was quite comfortable and confident in the bowling alley

 “… I’m much more outgoing than he is, I’m high energy, and he’s like medium energy… he smiled a lot… it was solid, we really got along well and we were like yin and yang.”

The turn: In 2010, at Mount Pleasant CME Church, in Piedmont, Ala., there was a moment for Natalya when she realized she was in love with Keenan, who is pastor at the church. “We had gone to an evening program there. And as he was preaching I remember thinking ‘oh my God, I am in love with this dude’ and my stomach just kinda dropped… Keenan stopped and looked at me, and he stumbled in his sermon, and it was like he felt the emotions I was feeling,” she said. 

Keenan said he decided to pray about “who my next partner was going to be. And, so, when she and I connected, I knew that she was going to be the person I would be with.”

The proposal: March 28, 2013, at Birmingham International Airport. Keenan was living in Kansas City where he was pastoring a church and Natalya was living in Birmingham.

“I had been carrying the ring for about six months and had flown back and forth to Birmingham with it a few times,” Keenan said. “… [One particular trip] I asked her to marry me right before I left to go back to Kansas City. She was dropping me off at the airport, and before I walked away to go inside, I went around to the driver’s side and got down on one knee outside the door and asked her would she marry me. She took a pause and said yes.”

“When he asked me I was nervous,” Natalya said. “. . . in the back of my mind I was trying to figure out how we were going to do a long-distance engagement. But I loved Keenan, so, I was happy to be his wife. I had been waiting for that moment.”

The wedding: At Woodrow Hall in East Birmingham, officiated by Rev. Adolphus Elliott. Their colors were blush and grey. 

Memorable for the bride was a moment at the reception. 

“The most quintessential thing was the acknowledgment of the space that was created for me to love him back… during our reception when we were giving our thanks to our family and friends for coming, and I was able to say it publicly to not just our family and friends but to him as well. I was really grateful to be able to open my heart up again, for the love we were experiencing and for the opportunity to create love together which would be our children… I was grateful for the journey we had taken in love to get to that point,” Natalya said.

Most memorable for the groom was watching his bride come down the aisle. “When I saw her come in, I had a tear roll down my eye,” he said. “She’s really beautiful, and she’s stylish. Her dress was untraditional but really classy and she was so beautiful she looked unreal to me.”

Words of wisdom: “I think it’s important not to be afraid of counseling, no matter how long you’ve been together,” said Natalya.  “It’s important to continue to try to figure out how you all can communicate better because you’re evolving as a person as you get older… that comes along with continuing to learn your partner as you all are journeying through life, as life is happening: aging parents, sick children, all of those things show up differently with each person, and how they deal with life individually.”    

Keenan said, “In the beginning, I thought about marriage in terms of levels, that I was the head of the house and Natalya, as the Bible put it, was to follow me. But I see us more so sitting at a round table and God is the head of the house and we mutually respect each other, and my respect for God comes out in the way I treat her.” 

He added: “We have decided to make our own marriage.  We see all these examples of marriages on television, and [other] families and [people] try to model these examples… but what has worked better for us is making our own marriage and not following broken models and unproductive patterns.”

Happily ever after: Natalya, 35, is an Alexander City Ala. native and graduate of Benjamin Russell High School. She attended Miles College, where she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Chemistry, and a Masters in Biological and Environmental Science from Samford University. She works as the Director of Student Support Services at Bevill State Community College (Sumiton campus).

Keenan, 34, is a Chicago native and graduated from Chicago Seven Day Adventists Academy. He attended Miles College, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. He is pastor of First CME (Christian Methodist Episcopal) Church in Montgomery and owns Synergy Home Solutions, a real estate investment company. 

They have a four year old daughter Gray Winters. 

The Winters also founded an organization called Bells and Butterflies, which they’ve partnered with The Turner Syndrome Society of the United States. The organization hosts an annual walk every May to raise funds and awareness for the genetic disorder their daughter was born with.