FamilyLife Today® Podcast

But I Don’t Want to Give That Up: Vivian Mabuni

with Darrin And Viv Mabuni | April 18, 2024
Play Pause

Does the idea of giving God your "100% yes" freak you out? Vivian Mabuni totally gets it. She talks about how scary surrendering to God can be—and yet maybe it's exactly what we need. Could letting go of that "one thing" actually save you? Vivian is also one of FamilyLife's guest contributors to the all-new Art of Marriage group study! To learn more or order your copy, visit

  • Show Notes

  • About the Host

  • About the Guest

  • Dave and Ann Wilson

    Dave and Ann Wilson are hosts of FamilyLife Today®, FamilyLife’s nationally-syndicated radio program. Dave and Ann have been married for more than 38 years and have spent the last 33 teaching and mentoring couples and parents across the country. They have been featured speakers at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway since 1993 and have also hosted their own marriage conferences across the country. Cofounders of Kensington Church—a national, multicampus church that hosts more than 14,000 visitors every weekend—the Wilsons are the creative force behind DVD teaching series Rock Your Marriage and The Survival Guide To Parenting, as well as authors of the recently released book Vertical Marriage (Zondervan, 2019). Dave is a graduate of the International School of Theology, where he received a Master of Divinity degree. A Ball State University Hall of Fame quarterback, Dave served the Detroit Lions as chaplain for 33 years. Ann attended the University of Kentucky. She has been active alongside Dave in ministry as a speaker, writer, small-group leader, and mentor to countless wives of professional athletes. The Wilsons live in the Detroit area. They have three grown sons, CJ, Austin, and Cody, three daughters-in-law, and a growing number of grandchildren.

Scared to give God your all? Vivian Mabuni gets it. She talks about how scary surrendering to God can be—and how maybe it’s exactly what we need.

MP3 Download Transcript

But I Don’t Want to Give That Up: Vivian Mabuni

With Darrin And Viv Mabuni
April 18, 2024
| Download Transcript PDF

Vivian: It’s all about open hands and being willing. That willingness provides the freedom and the unleashing of the adventure, really. From there, it was miracle after miracle. I tasted it; I tasted what life was like with God in the driver’s seat and not me.

Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at

Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!

Dave: So, I have this observation I have made about people. [Laughter] I don’t know if it’s right or not.

Ann: Have I heard this before?

Dave: I don’t think you’ve ever heard it. It’s just something I’ve been noticing. There’s a connection between a person’s hands and their face.

Ann: I have no idea what you’re—

Dave: Here’s what I’m saying: you see people who are tight-fisted. They’re holding on; even when they’re driving, their face is tense. [Laughter] It’s like you’re holding onto something; you don’t want to let go. Your face is like—[sound of pursing lips together]—they’re not happy people. I’m not kidding you. You can drive by somebody, and they’re like this—you look over—and they’re like [tense sounds]. But if you see people like this—their hands are open—it seems like their face is “Ahh.”

Ann: Their heart’s open, maybe?

Dave: It just seems like—

Ann: —is there a correlation, you think?

Vivian: Ooohhh.

Dave: It seems like they’re relaxed. That’s just my—is that true?

Ann: I think so.

Dave: Have you ever noticed that?

Ann: I’ve never noticed it, but now I will.

Dave: Well, I bring it up, because we have two open-handed people sitting in the studio today. [Laughter]

Vivian: Aww, Dave!

Ann: And they’re friends of ours. We love them.

Dave: And the book’s called Open Hands, Willing Heart. Vivian, when I saw your title, that’s one of the first things I thought, I thought, “Open-handed people”—again, all analogies break down at some point, but open-handed people—”tend to be happy people, tend to be restful people.” I don’t know if I’m right or not.

Ann: I don’t either, but I think it’s true of you two. We have Darrin, and we have Vivian, Mabuni with us today. Guys, welcome to FamilyLife Today.

Vivian: Thank you.

Darrin: Thanks for having us.

Dave: You’ve been on Cru® staff for—

Vivian: —34/35 years.

Dave: I was going to say, “…three decades.”

Vivian: Yes.

Darrin: For a little while.

Vivian: Yes, just a blink; just a blink.

Darrin: Yes, we were those [who] met, got engaged quickly, and got married quickly.

Vivian: We just dated three months and got engaged. We were married by about a year, a little under a year.

Darrin: From the time we were engaged until married was what? 7 ½ months or

8 months.

Vivian: Yes.

Ann: Wow.

Vivian: And it was long distance.

Ann: And you have three kids.

Vivian: We do have three kids; they’re grown now.

Ann: And tell our listeners what you do now.

Vivian: We are on staff with FamilyLife®.

Darrin: Yes; and we are on the speaker team, too, for Weekend to Remember®.

Vivian: It’s been amazing. [Laughter]

Darrin: Great people.

Ann: You’re going—you’re taking classes in seminary.

Vivian: Yes.

Ann: Share a little bit, too, about your podcast.

Vivian: Yes; I also do speaking and writing, and I have a podcast for Asian American and Pacific Islander American leaders called “Someday Is Here.” I’m also in seminary for the bajillionth year. [Laughter] One day—one day, I will walk across that stage, but in the meantime, I’ve gathered an amazing group of women—about 17 other authors and speakers; just incredible women who love God—and we’re in a cohort. It’s a closed cohort; we will take all the classes together and graduate together. I think the retention level will be so much higher, because we have each other, and there’s such a generosity in that group. I’m pretty excited about that future.

Ann: I feel like your whole lives—Viv, we have just gotten to know each other even more recently—your lives are about living open-handed. I feel like your lives, if you had to give a word to describe you guys, is: “surrendered.”

Take us back a little bit and share: “How did that happen?” Your book, called Open Hands, Willing Heart, that’s coming from somewhere. Have you always been pretty open-handed and willing?

Darrin: Yes and no; not so much until I came to know the Lord. Once I came to know the Lord, it really was such a dramatic change, that I said, “God, I am willing to go anywhere and do anything, whatever You want.” That’s when I found myself coming on staff with Cru and going to this mission project to Manila, where we met. It really was this process of, “Okay, God. Whatever You want.”

Vivian: I think the topic of surrender, to me, is the secret sauce of the Christian life.

Ann: I am with you. [Whispering] And people don’t know!

Vivian: Yes, I think that that’s the difference. If I meet another Christian, it’s not a personality thing; but you know when you meet someone, who—at some point in their relationship with God—has surrendered. There’s just a different attitude about theml there’s a familiarity, like a comfortableness of a fellow-surrendered sibling. And there’s something really refreshing [in that]. I found it’s not based on personality; it’s not based on ethnic or social status or anything like that. It really is people who have wrestled, and at some point, can look back at a time where they said, “I’m all in,”—like all the poker chips are in the middle—“I’m putting it all on You.”

Ann: Describe what you guys were like before that time.

Darrin: Before that time, I was about me. I had gone through a time, because my mom passed away when I was in high school, [when] I was doing everything to escape. I realized that, even after I became a Christian, escape was still part of how I was formed.

Dave: Like what? What kind of escapes?

Darrin: Escape would be alcohol, some drugs, sex, pornography. It was anything that would take my mind off of what was going on inside. It was amazing, because I went from having this huge hole in my heart, where it just felt empty—completely empty and dark, and there was no way out—to coming to Jesus. All of a sudden—I can’t even explain it—I was complete; I was whole. Also finding out—it’s kind of the now, and not yet—God has made me whole, and yet, He is still working on me. That’s the part that continues to blow my mind: “For by grace you have been saved through faithm and this not of yourself, it is the gift of God; not by works, that no one should boast.” [Ephesians 2:8-9] That has stuck with me.

The other thing that has stuck with me is the idea that when Jesus said to them: “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” [Matthew 16:24] For the longest time, I would think about that of: “…come after Me” and “deny myself,” like, “Yes, I’m going to go through troubles.” He said, “No, I’m talking about completely dying to yourself, not having trouble or enduring hardship, but dying to yourself—dying to your will—and taking up God’s will.” And “Follow Me. Put that into your daily practice. This is what you do.” It’s like we’ve continued to do ministry, and God is saying, “Okay, it’s time for you to surrender again.”

Vivian: Yes.

Darrin: We’ve come to that point many times, where God is saying, “I still want it all,” because I’ve been sort of holding on, pulling it back.

Dave: Yes, I’d love to hear your journey (for our listeners) with that, because the natural inclination of a person, a human being, is: “Hold on.”

Vivian: Yes, yes.

Dave: Open-handed living is not natural; it’s supernatural. I’d love to hear your journey, because we have to go on a journey from the natural—holding on—to the scary: “I’m going to let go, whether it’s my possessions, my money, even my life, or my marriage.”

Ann: And I want to hear Vivian.

Darrin, thank you. I’m picturing you, as a high school boy, losing your mom—a young man—and just lost, totally lost. And what we try to do is probably hold onto our lives or hold onto something, but you were just escaping into anything that would bring you life, and it wasn’t. That had to be hard.


Darrin: Yes.

Ann: Okay, Vivian. What were you like?

Vivian: You know, it’s interesting, because we’ve been in other conversations now, even on this program, talking about how we bring baggage into our marriages; that’s just the nature of things.

For me, I grew up trying to do everything to fit in to my surrounding culture, which was predominately white. I’m an Asian American, and I did not look like everybody else, but I wanted, in my soul, to fit in. So, I was a cheerleader, I did student government, and I was actually elected to be President of clubs that I didn’t even know I had. I just showed up, and they’re like, “You’re the president of Junior Achievement now.” I’m like, “Okay!” [Laughter] I just was very—

Dave: —so, you’re a leader.

Vivian: I was a leader and active, and I was also trying to fill an emptiness in my life. I think I recognized that awards, and money, and relationships—there’s still an emptiness that would not get satisfied—even the cutest shoes, or the latest perfume, or music band. There’s just an emptiness that I recognized was a spiritual one.

I sat next to a friend in math class, and she started glowing. She lived the surrendered life. I thought, “Oh, did you become a vegetarian?” [Laughter] It’s like, “What’s going on?”

Dave: Did you really ask her that?

Vivian: I asked her that, because she just looked different; like there was really a countenance about her and a change. She told me, “Oh, I became a Christian.” I asked, “What are you—what? You just go to church now?” She said, “No, I have a personal relationship with Jesus.” I’m like, “Oh, no!” [Laughter] “You’re smart and funny. How could you believe this mythology in the Bible?”

Anyway, it was evident: God was real. Sitting next to her day after day, and hearing more and more of her story, it was like: “This God is real,” and definitely real in my friend’s life. That set me on a spiritual journey. I ended up putting my faith in Christ the summer between my sophomore and junior year.

And then, I spent the next year really trying to live, externally, what I knew to be Christian. I didn’t have a Bible. I drove myself to the mall and bought a Bible; tried to read it. It was really boring—like there were a lot of kings, and measurements, some temples—

Dave: —a lot of blood.

Vivian: —blood, wars. I don’t know. “It’s not applying to my life.” I knew I was supposed to pray. I would try, and I would fall asleep. The Sundays that I would wake up and drive myself to church, I would cry through the worship songs, because there was still something that was like, “This is real,” but then, I would drive home and life was just normal, like always.

Dave: Were you the only one in your family?

Vivian: Yes, both Darrin and I are the first Christians in our family.

Dave: Wow.

Vivian: Yes, yes.

Dave: You’re driving to church by yourself as a high school kid.

Vivian: By myself, yes; as a high school kid.

Then my dad goes through a mid-life crisis. He comes home with the news, right before my senior year of high school, that we were moving. We weren’t moving across town, or even to another state; we were moving from Boulder, Colorado, to Hong Kong. That—

Dave: —what?! What was that about?

Vivian: —that was the ultimate of the mid-life crisis, I guess. He moved our family.

Ann: And you were going into your senior year.

Vivian: I was going into the senior year, that I had so meticulously built to be the most ultimate year of my life, at that point, as much as I could imagine it.

Dave: Yes.

Vivian: They had to drag me by my ankles all the way to Hong Kong. That is where I honestly experienced this open hands, willing heart peace in my relationship with God, because I was so mad at Him. All my securities were taken away. I could not understand the language. I spoke Mandarin; the dialect in Hong Kong is Cantonese—it might as well have been Polish! There’s no comprehension. The people drive on the left side of the road. I mean, everything about it was so hugely different than anything I had experienced in Boulder.

I just told God, “I am so mad at You. But in my heart, I really want to know You. If You could just give me a church youth group, Christian friends—if You do that—I’m all in. I will give You everything. I’ll hold nothing back. Otherwise, I’m going to go out and get drunk, and do something I’ll regret, but I’m never talking to You again.” That was my ultimatum prayer in Hong Kong in this little flat. God came through. He provided an amazing church youth group. God is not American. [Laughter] He understands all languages, and all peoples, and all cultures; and He met me in Hong Kong.

Ann: I think that’s such a good reminder, too, now that you’re parents—and a lot of our listeners are parents. We hate for our kids to experience pain. We hate for them to—I’m imagining, if we were moving, and one of our sons was going into his senior year, I’d probably stay back, because I don’t want him to experience pain.

Vivian: Right.

Ann: And yet, sometimes, that pain is the very thing God uses to draw our kids to Him.

Vivian: That’s right. I see it over and over again, because you want to protect our kids.

Ann: Yes.

Vivian: Roots are only formed when your forced to try to get water deeper.

Dave: I love what you just said. You said: “I was mad at God, but I want to know God.”

Ann: You told God you were mad at Him.

Vivian: Yes.

Dave: Yes, that’s rare that you have both sides of that. Usually, it’s, “I’m mad, and I’m out.” You [said]: “I’m mad—I’m honest—but I really want to know You.” Then, He revealed Himself.

Vivian: Yes, yes. He did. If we had more hours, I’d share the amazing stories, but it’s a long story.

Ann: Share one.

Vivian: One of the stories was after that prayer—that desperate prayer (and it was a very honest prayer)—I was approached by a random guy. I was at a girls’ school, and we were debating, because that was in English. I could do that. [Laughter] I can argue in English, as my husband can tell you. [Laughter] He came up to me, just completely out of the blue: “Are you a Christian? Would you like to come to our youth group?”

It was just like a miracle! Right down the street from my school was a Christian Missionary Alliance Church that taught—that had Cru staff actually there. So, I learned “The Four Spiritual Laws.” I learned the ministry of the Holy Spirit. That was the very first lesson at that high school youth group in Hong Kong. It was about the ministry of the Holy Spirit—which, again, I did not know that God’s Spirit; that the Christian life is impossible to live; that it requires His Spirit to live out the Christian life.

It’s all about surrender; it’s all about open hands and being willing. That willingness provides the freedom and the unleashing of the adventure, really. From there, it was like it was so amazing. It was miracle after miracle. I had tasted it; I tasted what life was like with God in the driver’s seat and not me. Boy, there’s so much freedom to just go—

Dave: —I mean, if you didn’t move to Hong Kong, and you’re still in Boulder, who knows?!

Vivian: I know.

Darrin: Yes.

Dave: That hardship, and being angry at God because of it, is part of the story of why you’re sitting here in this very—of why you even married this guy.

Vivian: I know, I know!

Dave: It’s amazing how God works.

Ann: And one of the things you said earlier, too, Darrin, was that it’s a continual surrender.

Darrin: Yes.

Ann: I’m not sure a lot of people understand that part of it. I remember—because Dave and I were on staff for 15 years with Cru—and do you remember Bill Bright, who’s the founder of Cru, saying, “Every morning I wake up, I fall on my knees, and I re-surrender my life: ‘God, take it.’” I’m like, “I want to do that!” But I find myself in situations, as life gets busy—as I became a mom—even in ministry, you’re still going; you’re doing.

Dave: You hold on.

Ann: Yes!

Darrin: Yes, yes.

Dave: You grip.

Darrin: So true.

Ann: So, what does that look like for you, to stay open-handed and surrendered, Darrin? How do you do that?

Darrin: A couple of things: one is that I think the Holy Spirit continues to remind us and bring us back. But a lot of times, I don’t listen. [Laughter] I think that is where God is so gracious in continuing to woo us to Himself and asking us to continue to surrender. I don’t hear because—you said it—we’re busy; we get busy. The sad thing is we got busy doing ministry.

Dave and Ann: Yes.

Darrin: But I think the main thing is, God’s continually calling. But it comes back to me trying to practice some disciplines to put myself in a place where I can hear, like having a quiet time and making sure I’m in the Word. Putting those in place helped me to continually hear the Spirit.

Vivian: Yes; I think, too, for us, as I look back, there have just been some crossroads where we needed to re-up. I think the Lord will just ask. I remember we were doing a summer mission in Japan. We had brought a group of students. I remember sitting in the back of the room, with my arms crossed. I was just so mad at God. There’s a theme here. [Laughter]

But I had sensed from Him: “Viv, would you be willing to sell the house in California?” and “Would you be willing to move here to learn a language you don’t know and drive on the other side of the street? Would you be willing to pull your kids out of school?”—a school that they love, with their friends. “Would you be willing to come here if I asked you?”

I stomped around the streets of Japan. [Laughter] “I’m already a missionary! We brought students. Are You kidding me? We’ve already surrendered!” He was like, “Are you entirely Mine?” and “Will you trust Me?” That’s really the question. “Would you be willing?” Just [being] willing is really the key.

Ann: Yes.

Vivian: I just stomped around. Finally, I came to a place of surrender again: “Lord, the house is Yours. The money is Yours. The kids are Yours. Our lives are Yours. We will go wherever You want us to go.” That’s what it’s about.

Now, the interesting thing is, the Lord never called us to do that. I think He just wanted my heart to be in check.

Dave: Surrendered.

Vivian: Surrendered.

Ann: I remember, when our first son was born—and I had gotten into a habit of surrendering everything to Jesus; and after that first son was born—I remember the doctor came in after I was in my room. He was still being cleaned up, the baby, CJ. He said, “We believe”—as he came in—“that this baby might have a skull fracture, and there might be some things going on.” He had a pretty traumatic birth. And then he left.

Dave, I can’t remember where you were; maybe, you were looking after CJ. But I remember being in that bed, and I felt like God was saying, “Will you let Me have your son?” Not knowing what the future would hold—

Dave: —like Abraham and Isaac on the altar.

Ann: Yes! I was like, “You have my life!” [Laughter] “Now, You want my son’s life, too?!” I did battle, like, “No!!”

Vivian: Yes.

Ann: It’s crazy the things we hold onto. I remember, finally, Scripture started pouring into my mind. I said, “What else can I do? You’ve given him to us, and all I can do is give him back.”

Vivian: Wow!

Ann: I think it is that check, where God’s like, “Will you give Me everything?” I think it’s a good reminder for us.

For you, as a listener, “Have you given Him everything?”

Dave: Darrin, you said it earlier—it’s Luke 9 [verse 23]: “’Whoever wants to follow Me must take up his cross and deny himself.”

Ann: That sounds terrible.

Dave: I know! [Laughter] It’s against this—the closed fist; the holding on. It’s like, sometimes, it’s almost like we have to have Him pry it off of our life, and our kids, and our future—you name it—our ministry. We can hold onto anything. God’s like, “The best way to live”—and it’s also the scariest

Ann: —the best way!

Darrin: Yes.

Dave: —because you’re scared to let go, but when you understand who your heavenly Father is, He’s a good Father.

Ann: That’s it.

Vivian: Yes, and that’s where I would think Galatians 2:20 is so wonderful: “I’ve been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me”—

Ann: —there it is.

Vivian: —"and delivered Himself up for me.” It’s like that’s—the basis isn’t just trying to do hard things because that’s what’s spiritual. It’s really out of trusting that God loves us. He actually delivered Himself up for us. I hope I never lose sight of how phenomenal, and gracious, and merciful God is to give His life in my place. He loves me.

Ann: He loves you.

Vivian: He did not withhold His own Son, so I can trust Him.

Shelby: Are there times when I lose sight of that on a day-to-day basis? If I’m honest, yes! If you’re honest, “Yes,” maybe? I don’t want to speak for you, but I’ll go ahead and speak for you in this moment and say, “Yes! Sometimes, I lose sight of that. I forget about who I am.”

Honestly, I think that is a good place to start. But when we have to move forward from there, we need to go deeper and deeper into the good news of the gospel. That was the perfect reminder that Vivian gave us today at the end of our time here. I’m so grateful for that.

I’m Shelby Abbot, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Vivian and Darrin Mabuni on FamilyLife Today. Vivian has written a book called Open Hands, Willing Heart: Discover the Joy of Saying ‘Yes’ to God. This is really about yielding ourselves wholly to God, especially in the midst of challenging circumstances. You can get your copy of Vivian’s book by going online to, or you can find it in the show notes. Or give us a call at 800-358-6329. You can request your copy that way. Again, that number is 800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”

Now, I have a question: Do you feel like your marriage might be running on empty? Have you ever told some of your closest friends that? Or maybe even your small group? Have you ever been intentional in developing a community and support system around you and your spouse? If the answer is either “Yes” or “No;” regardless of what it is, we can help.

We know many couples who have been in your shoes, and who struggle with grieving a loved one, reconciliation, anger, a hard diagnosis, and so much more. There are speakers, preachers, and every-day couples that make up the all-new Art of Marriage, including our guest today, Vivian Mabuni. Now, this marriage study that we have in the Art of Marriage will help you grow deeper together as a couple, but more importantly, grow closer to God.

Throughout six 25-minute sessions, Art of Marriage unpacks six biblical words that describe God’s love for us and how each can be displayed throughout our messy, imperfect marriages. Yes, even your messy, imperfect marriage. If you want to learn more, you can go to the show notes, or you can go to and click on the Art of Marriage banner that’s up there. You can learn more there and grab your leadership kit today.

Now, tomorrow, Vivian and Darrin Mabuni are back as they reflect on their own surrender to God and His unconditional love for them. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.

On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife, a CruMinistry.

Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.


We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?

Copyright © 2024 FamilyLife. All rights reserved.